It’s been just over a month since Rocket Lab’s inaugural (and long-delayed) commercial launch, “It’s Business Time,” and it’s about to take another customer to space: NASA. Tonight’s 8PM scheduled launch will take 10 small satellites to orbit as part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) XIX mission.
This is not only Rocket Lab’s first all-NASA launch, but the first launch from NASA under its “Venture Class Launch Services” initiative, which is taking advantage of the new generation of smaller, quick-turnaround launch vehicles.
“The NASA Venture Class Launch Service contract was designed from the ground up to be an innovative way for NASA to work and encourage new launch companies to come to the market and enable a future class of rockets for the growing small satellite market,” said Justin Treptow, ELaNa XIX’s mission manager in a Rocket Lab press release.
On board tonight’s launch are four satellites from NASA researchers, plus six from various universities and institutions around the country. NASA Spaceflight has a good roundup of the projects, as well as some technical details about the rocket, if you’re curious. They’ll all go their separate ways once the Electron rocket takes them up to the appropriate altitude.
The launch vehicle is named “This One’s For Pickering,” after former JPL head Sir William Pickering, who led the team that created Explorer I, the first U.S. satellite in space. Sir Pickering was born in New Zealand, where Rocket Lab is based and where the launch will take place.
Liftoff will take place no sooner than about 8 PM Pacific time, and payload deployment should be just short of an hour after T-0; you can watch the live stream at Rocket Lab’s website.