TROPICS will launch aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, on a mission nicknamed Coming To A Storm Near You, from Launch Complex 1 at Māhia, New Zealand. The first mission – Rocket Like A Hurricane – launched on May 8 from New Zealand was Rocket Lab’s 36th Electron launch overall.
The Electron is a 60-foot (18 m) tall, vertically launched, three-stage rocket including a kick stage for payload deployment that uses liquid oxygen and kerosene as propellants.
As an orbital-class small rocket, each Electron can carry payloads weighing up to about 700 pounds (320 kilograms). With an exterior made of a carbon fiber composite, 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 and are the world’s first 3D-printed, electric-pump-fed rocket engine. The TROPICS satellites are protected during launch through the atmosphere by a payload fairing, while an extra stage, called a kick stage, powered by a single Curie engine, will perform a plane change maneuver to position the CubeSats at a 30-degree inclination. Rocket Lab has been working to make the Electron’s first stage reusable, recovering boosters on several previous flights, though no attempt at recovery will be made for today’s launch.
In addition to the recent TROPICS launch, previous NASA missions that launched on an Electron rocket are the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE), as well as the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNA) 19 and 32 missions.
During today’s launch, most of the Electron operators will be on console at the Auckland Production Complex, just outside New Zealand’s most populous city. Remaining launch team members will be within Rocket Lab’s private range control facilities at Launch Complex 1, located around 250 miles southeast of Auckland on North Island’s east coast. NASA’s Launch Services Program team and spacecraft customer team will be on console at Rocket Lab’s Integration and Control Facility (ICF) in Wallops, Virginia.