On Thursday evening, a Rocket Lab Electron booster lifted off the east coast of Virginia, launching into orbit a pair of commercial radar satellites that can “see” through clouds, in daylight or darkness, to monitor the planet below.
Making Rocket Lab’s 34th flight, Electron’s Rutherford first stage nine engines came to life at 6:38 p.m. EDT, gently propelling the 59-foot-tall rocket away from Launch Complex 2 at Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) NASA’s Wallops Island, Virginia, flight test facility.
Climbing southeast over the Atlantic Ocean, the Electron exceeded the speed of sound one minute after liftoff, rapidly accelerating out of the dense lower atmosphere and disappearing from view.
The single engine powering the rocket’s second stage took more than two and a half minutes after liftoff, propelling the craft into an initial parking orbit. A “kick” stage carrying the two Capella Space radar satellites then activated nearly an hour after launch to put the vehicle into the planned deployment orbit.
A few minutes later, the two Capella satellites were released to fly on their own.
San Francisco-based Capella Space was founded in 2016 to provide commercial imaging of Earth to government agencies and the private sector using small satellites carrying synthetic aperture radar systems capable of viewing the planet below in daylight or at night. dark, regardless of cloud cover.
NASA used similar technology to map the surface of cloud-shrouded Venus in the 1990s, and radar imaging is routinely used by military spy satellites. But Capella Space claims to be the first company to use the technology with commercial remote sensing spacecraft.
Including an initial prototype, the company has now launched 10 radar satellites to provide 24-hour Earth observation. Applications include verifying claims for the insurance industry, tracking natural disaster damage, collecting of information and the detection of illegal maritime activities.
“Capella’s innovative small satellite design and rapid deployment from production to launch give our constellation (the ability) to effectively monitor the entire globe,” the company says, “and provide decision makers with the information they need to need on earth”.
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