Rocket Lab prepares back-to-back launches featuring additively manufactured rocket engines

April 30, 2024

April 30, 2024

Rocket Lab’s Electron features the Rutherford engine, an additively manufactured, electric-pump-fed rocket engine (Courtesy Rocket Lab)
Rocket Lab’s Electron features the Rutherford engine, an additively manufactured, electric-pump-fed rocket engine (Courtesy Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab USA, Inc., Long Beach, California, USA, is preparing two back-to-back Electron launches to deploy NASA’s PREFIRE (Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment) mission featuring the additively manufactured Rutherford engine. The two dedicated missions will each deploy one satellite to a 525km circular orbit from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand.

The first mission – named ‘Ready, Aim, PREFIRE’ – is scheduled to launch no earlier than May 22, 2024. The launch date of the second mission – named ‘PREFIRE And Ice’ – will be scheduled to take place within three weeks of the successful deployment of the first PREFIRE mission. The mission will be Rocket Lab’s 48th and 49th Electron launches overall and its sixth and seventh launches of 2024.

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NASA’s PREFIRE mission is a climate change-focused mission that looks to systematically measure the heat, in the form of infrared and far-infrared wavelengths, lost from Earth’s polar regions for the first time. Extreme storms, flooding, and coastal erosion are examples of weather outcomes that are influenced by climate conditions in the Arctic and Antarctica. Once deployed to their separate orbits, the two PREFIRE satellites will criss-cross over the Arctic and Antarctica, measuring thermal infrared radiation – the same type of energy emitted from a heat lamp – that will make climate models more accurate and help predict changes caused by global warming. PREFIRE consists of two 6U CubeSats with a baseline mission length of 10 months.

“Helping climate scientists better understand climate change means they need precisely located measurements of Earth’s polar heat loss, which NASA’s PREFIRE mission is setting out to achieve, and helping the PREFIRE mission achieve its science objectives means its satellites need precise and accurate deployments to their locations in space,” shared Rocket Lab Founder and CEO, Peter Beck. “It’s these types of missions where Electron really thrives as the leading launch provider for dedicated small satellite missions. We have an excellent track record of delivering NASA’s payloads to exactly where they need to go and when they need to, and we’re looking forward to adding to that tally further with these next back-to-back launches.”

PREFIRE is reportedly the latest to join Rocket Lab’s list of NASA science and technology missions launched on Electron in recent years. These include the CAPSTONE mission to the Moon launched by Electron and deployed by a Rocket Lab Explorer spacecraft bus; two back-to-back Electron launches for the TROPICS mission in May 2023; the recent NASA Starling mission launched on Electron; and NASA’s ACS3 mission launched last month on a rideshare mission.

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April 30, 2024

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