Enlarge /. An electron rocket will take off in 2019.
Rocket Lab announced late Tuesday that it has signed up another customer for its 2020 launch manifesto, a Japanese company called Synspective. Rocket Lab will launch the synthetic aperture (StriX-α) radar satellite from its location in New Zealand at the end of this year.
"We are delighted to be working with Rocket Lab, a pioneer in the rocket company," said Synspective founder and CEO, Motoyuki Arai, in a press release. "We are also grateful for their flexibility in accepting our requests for the orbit and launch phase of the satellite."
It was all standard enough. The 150 kg StriX-α satellite is close to Electron's upper power range, but the booster can deliver that much mass into sun-synchronous orbit. To date, the heaviest payload launched by Electron is a 185 kg satellite for the Air Force, which was placed in an orbit of 500 km last year.
What the Tuesday announcement didn't include was the fact that the Japanese company mixed this launch from a Vega rocket to Electron. The Vega rocket, which had its first failure in 15 launches last July, has yet to return to flight. The spaceport from which it launches in French Guiana remains closed due to the corona virus.
Synspective and Arianespace announced a contract just a year ago to introduce StriX-α as a ride on the European company's Vega vehicle. As part of this contract, they signed a "Strategic Partnership Agreement" to examine future collaboration.
This was significant in that Synspective has raised more than $ 100 million since its inception in early 2018. Finally, a constellation of 25 satellites is planned to ensure global coverage of the planet and synthetic aperture radar to provide continuous images through clouds and at night. Synspective plans to launch six satellites to cover Asia by 2022. Now Rocket Lab could be able to start this startup business instead of Arianespace.
No bus ride
The StriX-α satellite is a prototype for testing technologies for the constellation that are heavier than the planned 100 kg mass of the final satellite configuration. The launch of 25 of these offers some small startups a nice bundle of contracts, which is why the switch from Synspective to Rocket Lab is fascinating.
The cost of a dedicated Electron launch starts at $ 7.5 million. It is not known how much Syspective paid for a ride on the Vega rocket, which has a lifting capacity of around 1.4 tons in sun-synchronous orbit and costs $ 37 million, according to a U.S. government report.
While refusing to say what pressure had driven Synspective from the Vega rocket, Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab, told Ars that the company had seen this before. "This is not unusual for us," said Beck. "We have different types of customers. Sometimes they have booked a ride and it slips, or they are kicked off and come to us with flaming hair. Or maybe they have booked a ride with a fantasy rocket and realize that it is not that fast other customers really understand the value of a dedicated takeoff. "
Electrons may cost a little more than a ride, but Rocket Lab can do a valuable service with a missile that is now operational and can put a satellite into precise orbit. "You wouldn't expect to pay the price of a bus ticket for an Uber," said Beck. In this case, Synspective greatly appreciated putting its demo satellite into orbit as soon as possible.