Rocket Lab has signed a rideshare agreement with Scottish / American PocketQube satellite manufacturer, Alba Orbital, to launch a cluster of smallsats designed to demonstrate innovative radio and night-time Earth Observation (EO) technologies.
The four smallsats in Alba Orbital’s cluster will fly as part of a rideshare mission on Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle, lifting-off from Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula in Q4, 2021. The cluster includes Alba Orbital’s own Unicorn-2 PocketQube satellites, as well as the TRSI-2, TRSI-3 and MyRadar-1 satellites for Alba Orbital’s customers. Each smallsat carries a unique sensor designed to demonstrate innovative technologies on orbit.
Unicorn-2 will be carrying an optical night-time imaging payload designed to monitor light pollution across the globe. Night-time satellite imagery, otherwise known as ‘Night Lights’ data, provides crucial insights into human activities. This data enables a host of applications such as tracking urbanization and socioeconomic dynamics, evaluating conflict and disasters, investigating fisheries, assessing greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, and analyzing light pollution and health effects.
All four PocketQubes will be deployed to a circular orbit by Electron’s Kick Stage, a nimble spacecraft that provides in-space propulsion and maneuvering capability to ensure each satellite is deployed to a precise and unique orbit defined by the customer.
The Alba cluster joins this mission alongside AuroraSat-1 from Aurora Propulsion Technologies, a Finnish company dedicated to the sustainable use of space. The mission is one of many scheduled to lift off on Electron from Launch Complex 1 this year, including three back-to-back dedicated launches for BlackSky Global, and the CAPSTONE mission to the Moon in support of NASA’s Artemis program.
“We’re delighted to be Alba Orbital’s mission partner once again,” said Rocket Lab Founder and Chief Executive, Peter Beck. “The Alba Orbital team have proven that incredibly small satellites can be highly capable and deliver tangible insights and services back down to Earth at a fraction of traditional satellite costs. Making it faster, easier and more affordable to access space is a mission we share, so we’re excited to make it possible with Electron.”
“It’s a pleasure to be working with Rocket Lab again on this exciting mission,” said Tom Walkinshaw, CEO and Founder of Alba Orbital. “We successfully flew six satellites on board Rocket Lab’s ‘Running Out of Fingers’ flight in 2019, and we are thrilled to launch the first of our imaging constellation dedicated to imaging the Earth at night on board the Electron rocket. From day one, Alba Orbital’s mission has always been to democratize access to space, and Rocket Lab has demonstrated that they are whole-heartedly committed to the same vision.”