It Argos Up From Here | Electron

Lift Off Time
October 07, 2022 – 17:09 UTC
October 08, 2022 – 06:09 NZDT
Mission Name
It Argos Up From Here, a single GAzelle satellite for General Atomics
Launch Provider
(What rocket company is launched it?)
Rocket Lab
Customer
(Who paid for this?)
General Atomics
Rocket
Electron
Launch Location
Launch Complex-1B, Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand
Payload mass
Up to ~180 kg (~397 Ib
Where did the satellite go?
750 km Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at 98° inclination
Did they attempt to recover the first stage?
No, not on this mission
Where did the first stage land?
It crashed in the Pacific Ocean
Did they attempt to recover the fairings?
No
Are these fairings new?
Yes
This was the:
1st Rocket Lab’s mission for General Atomics
– 8th Rocket Lab launch of 2022
– 4th launch from Launch Complex-1B, Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand
– 31st Electron launch
– 132nd orbital launch attempt of 2022 (127th successful)
Where to re-watch
Official livestream

How Did It Go?

It Argos Up From Here was the 31st launch of Rocket Lab’s small satellite launch vehicle, Electron. The mission took off on October 07, 2022 UTC from Launch Complex-1B, Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand and marked the first partnership between Rocket Lab and General Atomics. General Atomics’ GAzelle satellite is carrying the Argos-4 payload as part of the international Argos program.

Rocket Lab’s It Argos Up From Here mission patch. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

It Argos Up From Here Mission

It Argos Up From Here is a dedicated launch for General Atomics and its GAzelle satellite bus. General Atomics is launching the satellite as a Hosted Payload Solutions (HoPS) mission for the Argos Advanced Data Collection System (A-DCS). The contract was awarded to General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GM-EMS) by the United States Space Force, Space System Commands, on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Argos-4 payload was provided by the French space agency CNES.

The GAzelle satellite is controlled and operated by GA-EMS during its expected on-orbit lifespan of five years.

Argos Program

Originally created in 1978 by the French Space Agency CNES, NASA and the NOAA, the Argos program was intended as a scientific tool to gather and relay oceanographic and meteorological data around the world. Today, the Argos Program is managed and serviced by CLS (Collecte Localisation satellite), providing 24/7 service to its customers, developing state-of-the-art processing tools, as well as providing satellite-based solutions for gathering environmental data collection .

Today, CNES, NOAA, EUMETSAT (European operational satellite agency for monitoring wather, climate and the environment), and ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) are actively participating in the Argos system providing the following applications:

  • Wildlife monitoring
  • Oceanography
  • Climatology
  • Marine fisheries
  • Maritime security
  • Monitoring pollution and equipment safety at sea
  • Humanitarian aid
  • Integrated global Earth observations

Payloads

Next to Argos-4 is the RadMon experiment, which, as the name suggests, is a radiation monitoring experiment that will monitor and measure space for radiation.

Once on orbit, Argos-4 will join a network of multiple Argos instruments located in Sun-synchronous orbits. Argos-4’s main purpose is collecting and relaying data from mobile and stationary transmitters around the globe. This data will help improve our understanding of Earth’s physical and biological environment, including weather and climate, assist with maritime security, humanitarian assistance, offshore pollution, as well as biodiversity and ecosystems.

GAzelle, General Atomics, Argos-4, RadMon, It Argos Up From Here
General Atomics’ GAzelle satellite with the RadMon and Argos-4 payloads. (Credit: GA-EMS)

GAzelle

Not much is known about General Atomics’ GAzelle, other than it is a small satellite bus designed to host multiple scientific payloads and experiments providing power, communications, attitude control and propulsion, with a nominal operational lifespan of five years.

Timeline

Pre-Launch

Hrs:Min:Sec
From Lift-Off
Events
– 04:00:00 Road to the launch site is closed
– 04:00:00 Electron is raised vertical, fueling begins
– 02:30:00 Launch pad is cleared
– 02:00:00 LOx load begins
– 02:00:00 Safety zones are activated for designated marine space
– 00:30:00 Safety zones are activated for designated airspace
– 00:18:00 GO/NO GO poll
– 00:02:00 Launch auto sequence begins

Launch

Hrs:Min:Sec
From Lift-Off
Events
– 00:00:02 Rutherford engine ignition
00:00:00 Lift-Off
+ 00:00:56 Vehicle supersonic
+ 00:01:08 Max-Q
+ 00:02:23 Main Engine Cut-Off (MECO) on Electron’s first stage
+ 00:02:26 Stage 1 separation
+ 00:02:29 Stage 2 Rutherford engine ignition
+ 00:02:57 Fairing separation
+ 00:06:11 Battery hot-swap
+ 00:09:08 Second Engine Cut-Off (SECO) on Electron’s second stage
+ 00:09:12 Stage 2 separation from Kick Stage
+ 00:51:26 Kick Stage Curie engine ignition
+ 00:53:58 Curie engine Cut-Off
~+ 00:54:58 GAzelle (Argos-4) payload

What Is Electron?

Rocket Lab’s Electron is a small-lift launch vehicle designed and developed specifically to place small satellites (CubeSats, nano-, micro-, and mini-satellites) into LEO and Sun-synchronous orbits (SSO). Electron consists of two stages with optional third stages.

Electron is about 18.5 meters (60.7 feet) in height and only 1.2 meters (3.9 feet) in diameter. It is not only small in size, but also light-weighted. The vehicle structures are made of advanced carbon fiber composites, which yields an enhanced performance of the rocket. Electron’s payload lift capacity to LEO is 300 kg (~660 lbs).

The maiden flight It’s A Test was launched on May 25, 2017, from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex-1 (LC-1) in New Zealand. On this mission, a failure in the ground communication system occurred, which resulted in the loss of telemetry. Even though the company had to manually terminate the flight, there was no larger issue with the vehicle itself. Since then, Electron has flown a total of 31 times (28 of them were fully successful) and delivered 151 satellites into orbit.

First And Second Stage

First Stage Second Stage
Engine 9 Rutherford engines 1 vacuum optimized Rutherford engine
Thrust Per Engine 24 kN (5,600 lbf) 25.8 kN (5,800 lbf)
Specific Impulse (ISP) 311 s 343 s

Electron’s first stage is composed of linerless common bulkhead tanks for propellant, and an interstage, and powered by nine sea-level Rutherford engines. The second stage also consists of tanks for propellant (~2,000 kg of propellant) and is powered by a single optimized vacuumed Rutherford engine. The main difference between these two variations of the Rutherford engine is that the latter has an expanded nozzle that results in improved performance in near-vacuum conditions.

For the Love At First Insight mission, the company introduced an update to the second stage by stretching it by 0.5 m. Moreover, they flew an Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS) for the first time.

Rutherford Engine

Rutherford engines are the main propulsion source for Electron and were designed in-house, specifically for this vehicle. They are running on rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) and liquid oxygen (LOx). There are at least two things about the Rutherford engine that make it stand out.

Electron's Rutherford engine
The CEO of Rocket Lab, Peter Beck, standing next to an Electron rocket holding a Rutherford engine. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Firstly, all primary components of Rutherford engines are 3D printed. Main propellant valves, injector pumps, and engine chamber are all produced by electron beam melting (EBM), which is one of the variations of 3D printing. This manufacturing method is cost-effective and time-efficient, as it allows to fabricate a full engine in only 24 hours.

Rutherford is the first RP-1/LOx engine that uses electric motors and high-performance lithium polymer batteries to power its propellant pumps. These pumps are crucial components of the engine as they feed the propellants into the combustion chamber, where they ignite and produce thrust. However, the process of transporting liquid fuel and oxidizer into the chamber is not trivial. In a typical gas generator cycle engine, it requires additional fuel and complex turbomachinery just to drive those pumps. Rocket Lab decided to use battery technology instead, which allowed eliminating a lot of extra hardware without compromising the performance.

Different Third Stages

Kick Stage

Electron has optional third stages, also known as the Kick Stage, Photon, and deep-space version of Photon. The Kick Stage is powered by a single Curie engine that can produce 120 N of thrust. Like Rutherford, it was designed in-house and is fabricated by 3D printing. Apart from the engine, the Kick Stage consists of carbon composite tanks for propellant storage and 6 reaction control thrusters.

The Kick Stage in its standard configuration serves as in-space propulsion to deploy Rocket Lab’s customers’ payloads to their designated orbits. It has re-light capability, which means that the engine can re-ignite several times to send multiple payloads into different individual orbits. A recent example includes Electron 19th mission, They Go Up So Fast, launched in 2021. The Curie engine was ignited to circularize the orbit, before deploying a payload to 550 km. Curie then re-lighted to lower the altitude to 450 km, and the remaining payloads were successfully claimed.

Photon And Deep-space Photon

Rocket Lab offers an advanced configuration of the Kick Stage, its Photon satellite bus. Photon can accommodate various payloads and function as a separate operational spacecraft supporting long-term missions. Among the features that it can provide to satellites are power, avionics, propulsion, and communications.

Photon, deep space version
An illustration of the deep space version of Photon (Credit: Rocket Lab)

But there is more to it. Photon also comes as a deep-space version that will carry interplanetary missions. It is powered by a HyperCurie engine, an evolution of the Curie engine. The HyperCurie engine is electric pump-fed, so it can use solar cells to charge up the batteries in between burns. It has an extended nozzle to be more efficient than the standard Curie, and runs on some”green hypergolic fuel“that Rocket Lab has not yet disclosed.

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