Rocket Lab has successfully launched a research and development satellite to orbit for the United States Space Force (USSF) — this mission was Rocket Lab’s fourth launch for the year and their 21st Electron mission, overall.
The mission, named ‘It’s a Little Chile Up Here’ in a nod to the beloved green chile of New Mexico where the Space Test Program is based, launched from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 06:00 UTC / 18:00 NZT on July 29th. A single Air Force Research Laboratory-sponsored demonstration satellite called Monolith, built by Space Dynamics Laboratory, was deployed to LEO by the Electron launch vehicle in Rocket Lab’s second mission for the USSF.
Monolith will demonstrate the use of a deployable sensor, where the sensor’s mass is a substantial fraction of the total mass of the spacecraft, changing the spacecraft’s dynamic properties and testing ability to maintain spacecraft attitude control. Analysis from the use of a deployable sensor aims to enable the use of smaller satellite buses when building future deployable sensors such as weather satellites, thereby reducing the cost, complexity, and development timelines.
Monolith is an Air Force Research Lab program designed to explore the application of small satellites if 6U (2x3x1) or 12U (2x3x2) bus sizes can be configured such that a large deployable sensor can be installed in one of the 2x3x1 side faces for DoD programs.
The mission was procured by the Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program (STP) and the Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP), both based at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.; in partnership with the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) as part of the Rapid Agile Launch Initiative (RALI). The mission is being managed by the Launch Enterprise’s Small Launch and Targets Division, which is part of the USSF’s launch organization of choice.
“Our continuing partnership with Rocket Lab USA demonstrates SMC’s dedication to grow our Nation’s space capabilities both in Government, and the private sector,” said Col. Timothy Sejba, the Space & Missile Systems Center (SMC) program executive officer for Space Development. “This mission proves the functionality of innovative space launch for the Government by working with an agile company that is working diligently to meet the needs of the DoD.”
“Congratulations to all the teams behind Monolith. We’re proud to have safely delivered another mission to orbit for the United States Space Force,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck. “Programs like the Rapid Agile Launch Initiative are shining a light on the crucial role small launch can play in supporting fast-paced innovation in orbit to support innovation and space capabilities.”