Spaceflight strikes deal with Rocket Lab for three satellite launch extravaganzas

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket lifts off from its New Zealand launch pad in January. (Rocket Lab Photo via Spaceflight)

Seattle-based Spaceflight has partnered with Rocket Lab for three launches over the next year, including the first launch for BlackSky’s Earth observation constellation.

All three launches will send an assortment of small satellites into low Earth orbit from Rocket Lab’s facility on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.

BlackSky’s Global-1 satellite and several other rideshare payloads are due to go up on the first flight, set for the end of 2018.

BlackSky is a subsidiary of Seattle’s Spaceflight Industries, which is also Spaceflight’s parent company. A prototype for the Global constellation, known as BlackSky Pathfinder, was launched on an Indian PSLV rocket in 2016 to demonstrate BlackSky’s Earth-imaging technology.

Four Global satellites are due to be launched over the next year with support from the Space Alliance, Spaceflight’s European partner. As the constellation grows to its target size of 60 satellites, BlackSky will offer fast-turnaround Earth imagery and other geospatial data.

The second launch in the package deal announced today is to send satellites from commercial and government organizations into low Earth orbit in early 2019, Spaceflight and Rocket Lab said.

The third mission, also set for early 2019, will launch two satellites for Canon Electronics — following up on last year’s launch of CE-SAT-I, Canon’s experimental Earth-observing microsatellite.

Canon Electronics had its CE-SAT-I satellite put into orbit in 2017. (Canon / Spaceflight Photo)

In today’s news release, Canon Electronics said the launch will be “very critical” for the company, in part because all of the satellite components were manufactured in-house.

“CE-SAT-I Mark II is our first mass-production model, and CE-SAT-II is a model equipped with two cameras with different resolutions,” Nobutada Sako, group executive for Canon Electronics’ Satellite Systems Lab, said in the release. “Just as Canon provides world premium technologies, sales, and services, we believe Spaceflight and Rocket Lab offer the same premium services to their clients and look forward to a long-term partnership with them.”

Rocket Lab said the Canon launch is addressed in a letter of agreement with Spaceflight that “is expected to be finalized in the next few weeks.”

Spaceflight is selling the launch capacity that it’s procured with Rocket Lab, and will provide mission campaign integration services for its satellite customers. Rocket Lab will assist with integrating the satellites with the launch vehicle — and then provide the launch services required to get the payloads into orbit, using its low-cost Electron rocket.

“Adding the Electron to our portfolio of small launch vehicles fulfills a need for customers to access space with shorter lead times,” Melissa Wuerl, Spaceflight’s vice president of business development, said in a statement. “In addition to providing rideshare services on other organizations’ missions, we are pleased to offer first-class integration services and dedicated launches for our customers on the Electron rocket.”

Rocket Lab executed its first fully successful orbital launch of the two-stage Electron rocket in January, and is planning another satellite rideshare mission (dubbed “It’s Business Time”) within a month.

“Rapid and repeatable access to space is crucial for the development of vital infrastructure on orbit,” Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said today. “In partnering with Spaceflight, Rocket Lab delivers streamlined launches and enables innovative missions like those of Canon Electronics and BlackSky.”

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