Rocket Lab USA, Inc a leading launch and space Systems Company successfully completed the second of two dedicated Electron launches to deploy a constellation of tropical cyclone monitoring satellites for NASA.
The Coming To A Storm Near You launch lifted-off on May 26 at 15:46 NZST (03:46 UTC) from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula, deploying the final two CubeSats of NASA’s TROPICS constellation (Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats) to orbit. ‘Coming to a Storm near You’ is Rocket Lab’s second of two TROPICS launches for NASA, following the first launch on May 8th NZST. Like the previous launch, ‘Coming to a Storm near You’ deployed a pair of shoebox-sized satellites to low Earth orbit to collect tropical storm data more frequently than other weather satellites. The constellation aims to help increase understanding of deadly storms and improve tropical cyclone forecasts
The TROPICS CubeSats required launch to a specific orbit at an altitude of 550 kilometers and inclination of about 30 degrees, with all four satellites needing to be deployed into their operational orbit within a 60-day period ahead. Rocket Lab has now launched all four satellites across two dedicated launches within 18 days, enabling the TROPICS satellites to settle into their orbits and begin commissioning ahead of the 2023 North American storm season which begins in June. While the TROPICS launches were Rocket Lab’s 36th and 37th launches, they were unique from most of the Company’s other missions to low Earth orbit due to the 30 degree inclination requirement. To reach such a low inclination from Launch Complex 1, Rocket Lab used Electron’s second stage to place the Kick Stage and TROPICS satellites into a circular orbit, and the Kick Stage’s Curie engine carried out a plane change maneuver to position the TROPICS satellites at 30 degrees.
“Electron was developed for exactly these kids of missions – to deploy spacecraft reliably and on rapid timelines to precise and bespoke orbits, so we’re proud to have delivered that for NASA across both TROPICS launches and meet the deadline for getting TROPICS to orbit in time for the 2023 storm season,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck. “Thank you to the team at NASA for entrusting us with such an important science mission, we’re grateful to be your mission launch providers once again.”
“We needed multiple launches for this mission,” said Dr. Will McCarty, program scientist, NASA’s Earth Science Division. “Rocket Lab provided the ability to have the TROPICS CubeSats serve as that primary payload and thus define the orbit based on our scientific objectives.”
‘Coming to a Storm near You’ was Rocket Lab’s fifth mission for 2023 and the Company’s 37th Electron mission overall. It brings the total number of satellites launched to orbit by Rocket Lab to 163.