NASA and Rocket Lab are targeting no earlier than 1:30 a.m. EDT (5:30 p.m. NZST) Monday, May 22, for the launch of the agency’s TROPICS (Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats) mission, on an Electron rocket from Launch Complex 1 in Māhia, New Zealand.
The launch will place a pair of CubeSats in low Earth orbit, and they will join another pair of TROPICS satellites that made it to orbit last week after launching on an Electron rocket from New Zealand. Together the four satellites will orbit in two equally spaced orbital planes, which will distribute them for optimal coverage over the tropics. The orbiting TROPICS constellation of satellites will study the formation and development of tropical cyclones, known as hurricanes in the Atlantic and typhoons in the West Pacific, making observations of temperature, precipitation, water vapor, and cloud ice more often than what is possible with current weather satellites. They they will join the TROPICS Pathfinder satellite, in orbit since its launch in June of 2021.
Team members successfully sent commands to the first CubeSat at 1:48 a.m. EDT, May 8. Subsequently, they established communications with the second CubeSat at 6:31 a.m. EDT. Read the NASA release here.
Two TROPICS CubeSats successfully deployed from a Rocket Lab Electron rocket after launch.
The team is working toward signal acquisition from the pair of TROPICS CubeSats. NASA will continue to assess data from periodic pass opportunities. It is not unexpected for CubeSats to take some time to establish communications. We will provide confirmation when signal is acquired.
The second pair of TROPICS CubeSats is planned to launch aboard another Rocket Lab Electron rocket, named Coming To A Storm Near You, in about two weeks from Launch Complex 1 at Māhia, New Zealand.
Follow launch updates on this blog and stay connected with the mission on social media. This concludes our coverage of this launch.
NASA’s TROPICS CubeSats are expected to have deployed from the Rocket Lab’s Electron kick stage. The two CubeSats will reach low-Earth orbit to begin their mission.
Each of the CubeSats was designed to last approximately two years, but analysis, lifetime testing of key parts, and on-orbit experiences with similar hardware could help the satellites surpass their design lifetime.
Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 1 at Māhia, New Zealand at 9:00 p.m., carrying two TROPICS CubeSats for NASA.
A series of milestones will occur within several minutes after launch. The rocket will reach MaxQ, which is the speed at which the vehicle reaches its maximum dynamic pressure. Electron’s first stage main engines will cut off, followed by separation from the second stage. The payload fairing surrounding TROPICS will jettison.
TROPICS will launch aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, named Rocket Like A Hurricane, from Launch Complex 1 at Māhia, New Zealand. The Electron is an expendable, vertically launched, two-stage rocket that uses liquid oxygen and kerosene as propellants. Propellant loading has already begun for today’s launch and the rocket should launch in about five minutes.
Each Electron rocket is around 60 feet (18 m) tall, with an exterior made of a carbon fiber composite, that can carry payloads weighing up to about 700 pounds (320 kilograms). Each Electron rocket uses nine Rutherford sea-level engines on its first stage, and a single Rutherford vacuum engine on its second stage. These engines use an electric turbopump powered by batteries to deliver propellants/fuel to the engines. A payload fairing protects the spacecraft or satellite as the rocket climbs through the atmosphere. An extra stage, called a kick stage, powered by a single Curie engine, will circularize the orbits of the small satellites. Previous NASA missions that launched on an Electron rocket are the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE), as well as two Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNA) missions ELaNa 19 and 32.
Some of the launch team members are located within Rocket Lab’s private range control facilities at Launch Complex 1, located on the north Island of New Zealand. The bulk of the Electron operators, as well as NASA’s Launch Services Program team and spacecraft customer team will be on console at the Auckland Production Complex.