Tracking tropical storms will be easier following a second successful Rocket Lab launch for NASA Thursday night.
“Coming to a Storm Near You” blasted off from the Long Beach company’s New Zealand complex at 8:46 p.m. Long Beach time. One hour later, Rocket Lab confirmed via Twitter the payload of two shoebox-size satellites had been delivered.
Payload deployment confirmed! Congratulations to the launch team on our 37th Electron launch, and to our mission partners at @NASA @NASA_LSP @NASAAmes: the TROPICS constellation is officially on orbit! pic.twitter.com/xAy7ltg7m1
— Rocket Lab (@RocketLab) May 26, 2023
Thursday’s mission came less than three weeks after Rocket Lab delivered the first two satellites for NASA’s TROPICS (Time-Resolved Observations Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats) constellation on May 8.
“We needed multiple launches for this mission,” Will McCarty, program scientist for NASA’s Earth Science Division, said in a statement. “Rocket Lab provided the ability to have the TROPICS CubeSats serve as that primary payload and thus define the orbit based on our scientific objectives.”
The four cubesats required a highly specific orbit at an altitude of 550 kilometers and inclination of about 30 degrees. The satellites also had to be deployed to their operational orbit within a 60-day period in order to settle in and be commissioned ahead of the 2023 North American storm season, which begins in June.
To reach the low inclination from its New Zealand complex, Rocket Lab used its Electron rocket’s second stage to place the kick stage and TROPICS satellites into a circular orbit. The kick stage then performed a plane change maneuver to the correct deployment position.
“Electron was developed for exactly these kids of missions—to deploy spacecraft reliably and on rapid timelines to precise and bespoke orbits, so we’re proud to have delivered that for NASA across both TROPICS launches and meet the deadline for getting TROPICS to orbit in time for the 2023 storm season,” founder and CEO Peter Beck said in a statement.
The new constellation will monitor the formation and evolution of tropical cyclones, including hurricanes, and provide more rapid updates on storm intensity than previously possible. The satellites are equally spaced in orbit to maximize the frequency an area can be viewed from the same angle—about once an hour compared to the six hours of other weather tracking satellites.
Thursday’s mission was Rocket Lab’s fifth of 2023 and 37th since it first launched in 2017. To date, the company has delivered 163 satellites to orbit.