Electron lifting off from Launch Complex 1B. ©Rocket Lab

Electron flies 'Owl Night Long'

Early in the morning in New Zealand on the 13th of March, the 12th in Universal Coordinated Time, an Electron rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 1B on the Māhia Peninsula, located on New Zealand's northern island. The launch is Rocket Labs' third for the year and was carrying the StriX-3 satellite onboard.

StriX-3 is a synthetic aperture radar satellite from the Japanese company Synspective. The satellite will gather images of the Earth at a resolution of approximately one meter from a sun-synchronus orbit. StriX-3 is believed to weigh one-hundred kilograms.

The StriX-3 satellite ahead of encapsulation into Electron's fairing. ©Rocket Lab

This was also the fourth time Rocket Lab has launched a spacecraft for Synspective having previously launched the StriX-α, StriX-β, and StriX-1 satellites. Dr. Motoyuki Arai, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Synspective, said the following about StriX-3 ahead of the launch in February:

"StriX-3 is our fourth satellite, enabling us to offer more data services to our new and existing customers. This year, we plan to expand our business through multiple launches, and StriX-3 will be the first satellite aimed at full-scale constellation operations."

Synspective is planning to build a fleet of thirty StriX satellites to be launched during the 2020s with launches planned to sun-synchronus and other highly inclined orbits. The constellation would be able to acquire and analyze data within approximately 10 to 60 minutes of a disaster occurring anywhere in the world allowing the company to provide information that aids decision-makers in responding to disasters and other events.

Synspective's StriX-3 patch (left) and Rocket Labs' forty-fifth mission patch (right). ©Synspective/Rocket Lab
Synspective's StriX-3 patch (left) and Rocket Labs' forty-fifth mission patch (right). ©Synspective/Rocket Lab

What is Electron?

Electron is a two-stage launch vehicle developed by Rocket Lab. Electron utilizes the first electric-pump-fed engines to power its small rocket on both stages and is made of carbon fiber for its tanks.

Rocket Lab claims Electron can launch 300 kilograms into low Earth orbit or 200 kilograms into Sun-Syncronous orbit.

Electron at Launch Complex 1B prior to its forty-fifth mission. ©Rocket Lab
Electron at Launch Complex 1B prior to its forty-fifth mission. ©Rocket Lab

The first-stage is powered by nine Rutherford engines generating 23 tons of thrust burning rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen. The second-stage is powered by a single vacuum version of the Rutherford engine generating 2.6 tons of thrust also burning rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen.

Who is Synspective?

Synspective is a Japanese synthetic aperture radar satellite operator and manufacturer founded in 2018. The company is hoping to operate a constellation of synthetic aperture radar satellites in the coming years.

The logo of Synspective.
The logo of Synspective.