US’ Rocket Lab to launch NASA’s advanced composite electron rocket

October 18, 2021 - United States Of America

Rocket Lab, a leader in launch services and space systems headquartered in the US, has announced that it has been selected to launch NASA’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System, or ACS3, on the electron launch vehicle. Rocket Lab delivers reliable launch services, spacecraft components, satellites and other spacecraft and on-orbit management solutions.

NASA’s ACS3 technology demonstration uses composite materials, or a combination of materials with different properties, in its novel, lightweight booms that deploy from a CubeSat to support a solar sail. Just as a sailboat is powered by wind in a sail, solar sails employ the pressure of sunlight for propulsion, eliminating the need for conventional rocket propellant, according to a press release by Rocket Lab.

Data obtained from the ACS3 demonstration will guide the design of future larger-scale composite solar sail systems that could be used for space weather early warning satellites, near-Earth asteroid reconnaissance missions, or communications relays for crewed exploration missions.

ACS3 will launch as part of a rideshare mission, scheduled for lift-off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in mid-2022. The ability of the electron launch vehicle’s kick stage to deploy individual satellites to unique orbits, even when flying as part of a rideshare, was a key factor in Rocket Lab being selected as the launch provider.

ACS3 requires a higher altitude than the other rideshare payloads launching on the same mission, so after deploying the first payloads, the kick stage will perform another burn with its 3D printed Curie engine to raise the orbit and deploy ACS3. Rocket Lab’s kick stage has demonstrated orbit raises across 18 missions to date, and also successfully conducted inclination changes and orbit lowering, providing customers with proven, flexible, and precise in-space transportation, Rocket Lab said.

“We are thrilled to be NASA’s launch partner for this innovative mission. It seems fitting to launch NASA’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System on Electron, the world’s first full carbon composite orbital launch vehicle. We’re excited to see composites used yet again to unlock new capabilities in space,” Rocket Lab founder and chief executive, Peter Beck said.