Rocket Lab has successfully launched its second flight into space.
The flight, christened ‘Still Testing’, was launched from the Mahia Peninsula in January 2018. It saw the 17-metre Electron rocket successfully enter into orbit and deploy three mini-satellites on behalf of paying customers.
The satellites are an earth-imaging satellite for Planet, and two Lemur-2 weather and ship tracking satellites for Spire Global.
Also deployed was the ‘Humanity Star’ – a highly polished, carbon fibre geodesic orb. The ‘star’ is visible to the naked eye and orbits earth every 90 minutes blinking brightly against the night sky to create a shared experience for everyone on Planet Earth.
MetService Expert Meteorologist, Mark Schwarz, provided meteorological guidance to Rocket Lab in the lead-up to launch.
He comments on some of the forecasting challenges.
“The launch attempt of 21 January was held in largely benign surface conditions, but with potential problems in the upper atmosphere.
“These problems came in two flavours: wind shear above the tropopause and potential ice cloud below it. Cold clouds, which if consisting of ice crystals pose a risk of inducing electrical discharges within the rocket through frictional triboelectrification, were coming and going through the day. This cloud heralded an extensive storm system upstream that would have washed out any launch attempts in the following days.
“Maintaining a close eye on the nature of the cloud as it passed or formed and dissipated across the launch area, we were able to identify the operational windows.
“The more difficult risk to pin down was the wind shear layer higher up. The possibility of problematic wind shear had been forecast under the upper level ridge, or anticyclonic airflow (anticlockwise in the Southern Hemisphere). Balloon flights confirmed this and the question became one of judging both the trend and the variability with time that this threat posed. This assessment, along with further balloons and computer simulations, gave sufficient confidence to proceed to launch.
“The contrail produced by the rocket on ascent showed the marked deviation through the shear layer, which the vehicle negotiated as forecast.”
Rocket Lab Founder and Chief Executive, Peter Beck, has announced that Rocket Lab is now working towards increasing the frequency of launches to fortnightly in 2019.
MetService is the state-owned Meteorological Service of New Zealand, based in Wellington, New Zealand with over 150 years’ meteorological experience.