Rocket Lab successfully launches NASA CubeSats to orbit on first ever Venture Class Launch Services mission

Rocket Lab – Electron Flight Test 2 Mission patch.

Dec. 16, 2018

The mission follows just five weeks after the successful ‘It’s Business Time’ launch in November, and marks Rocket Lab’s third orbital launch for 2018

 Rocket Lab successfully launches NASA CubeSats to orbit

Huntington Beach, California – December 16, 2018 – US small satellite launch company Rocket Lab has launched its third orbital mission of 2018, successfully deploying satellites to orbit for NASA. The mission, designated Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa)-19 , took place just over a month after Rocket Lab’s last successful orbital launch, ‘It’s Business Time.’ Rocket Lab has launched a total of 24 satellites to orbit in 2018.

On Sunday, December 16, 2018 UTC, Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle successfully lifted off at 06:33 UTC (19:33 NZDT) from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. After being launched to an elliptical orbit, Electron’s Curie engine-powered kick stage separated from the vehicle’s second stage before circularizing to a 500×500 km orbit at an 85 degree inclination. By 56 minutes into the mission, the 13 satellites on board were  individually deployed to their precise, designated orbits.

Rocket Lab Electron launches NASA ELaNa XIX

Until now, launch opportunities for small satellites have mostly been limited to rideshare-type arrangements, flying only when space is available on large launch vehicles. This mission, awarded under a Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) Agreement, marks the first time NASA CubeSats received a dedicated ride to orbit on a commercial launch vehicle. VCLS is managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program headquartered at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck says the ELaNa-19 mission represents a forward-thinking approach from NASA to acquiring launch services and recognizes the increasingly significant role small satellites are playing in exploration, technology demonstration, research and education.

Rocket Lab historic CubeSat mission for NASA

“The ELaNa-19 mission was a significant one for NASA, the Rocket Lab team and the small satellite industry overall. To launch two missions just five weeks apart, and in the first year of orbital flights, is unprecedented. It’s exactly what the small satellite industry desperately needs, and Rocket Lab is proud to be delivering it. Regular and reliable launch is now a reality for small satellites. The wait is over,” says Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck. “We’re providing small satellite customers with more control than they’ve ever had, enabling them to launch on their own schedule, to precise orbits, as frequently as they need to.”

NASA ELaNa-19 Mission Manager Justin Treptow adds, “The CubeSats of ELaNa-19 represent a large variety of scientific objectives and technology demonstrations. With this the first launch of a Venture Class Launch Service on the Rocket Lab Electron, NASA now has an option to match our small satellite missions with a dedicated small launch vehicle to place these satellites in an optimal orbit to achieve big results.”

Rocket Lab Electron ELaNa XIX satellites deployment

The ELaNa-19 launch webcast can be viewed in full at and images from the mission are available in the media library at

The next Rocket Lab Electron vehicle will be on the pad at Launch Complex 1 in January 2019. For real-time updates and mission announcements, follow Rocket Lab on Twitter @RocketLab.

Fro more information about Rocket Lab, visit:

Images, Text, Videos, Credits: Rocket Lab/Trevor Mahlmann/SciNews.

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NASA Seeks US Partners to Develop Reusable Systems to Land Astronauts on Moon

NASA logo.

Dec. 14, 2018

As the next major step to return astronauts to the Moon under Space Policy Directive-1, NASA announced plans on Dec. 13 to work with American companies to design and develop new reusable systems for astronauts to land on the lunar surface. The agency is planning to test new human-class landers on the Moon beginning in 2024, with the goal of sending crew to the surface in 2028.

Image above: Artist’s concept of undocking Human Landing System from Lunar Orbital Outpost. Image Credit: NASA.

Through upcoming multi-phased lunar exploration partnerships, NASA will ask American companies to study the best approach to landing astronauts on the Moon and start the development as quickly as possible with current and future anticipated technologies.

“Building on our model in low-Earth orbit, we’ll expand our partnerships with industry and other nations to explore the Moon and advance our missions to farther destinations such as Mars, with America leading the way,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “When we send astronauts to the surface of the Moon in the next decade, it will be in a sustainable fashion.”

The agency’s leading approach to sending humans to the Moon is using a system of three separate elements that will provide transfer, landing, and safe return. A key aspect of this proposed approach is to use the Gateway for roundtrip journeys to and from the surface of the Moon.

Using the Gateway to land astronauts on the Moon allows the first building blocks for fully reusable lunar landers. Initially NASA expects two of the lander elements to be reusable and refueled by cargo ships carrying fuel from Earth to the Gateway. The agency is also working on technologies to make rocket propellants using water ice and regolith from the Moon.  Once the ability to harness resources from the Moon for propellant becomes viable, NASA plans to refuel these elements with the Moon’s own resources. This process, known as in-situ resource utilization or ISRU, will make the third element also refuelable and reusable.

NASA expects to publish a formal request for proposals to an appendix of the second Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) in early January.

According to the synopsis, NASA will fund industry-led development and flight demonstrations of lunar landers built for astronauts by supporting critical studies and risk reduction activities to advance technology requirements, tailor applicable standards, develop technology, and perform initial demonstrations by landing on the Moon.

Image above: Artist’s concept of Human Landing System on the lunar surface with astronaut nearby. Image Credit: NASA.

When NASA again sends humans to the Moon, the surface will be buzzing with new research and robotic activity, and there will be more opportunities for discovery than ever before. Private sector innovation is key to these NASA missions, and the NextSTEP public-private partnership model is advancing capabilities for human spaceflight while stimulating commercial activities in space.

The President’s direction from Space Policy Directive-1 galvanizes NASA’s return to the Moon and builds on progress on the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, efforts with commercial and international partners, and knowledge gained from current robotic presence at the Moon and Mars.

For more information about NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration plans, visit:

Related links:

Space Policy Directive-1:

Landing astronauts on the Moon:



Cargo ships carrying fuel:

Formal request for proposals:

Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Shanessa Jackson.

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See a Passing Comet This Sunday

Asteroid Watch logo.

Dec. 14, 2018

Image above: This 120 second image of the comet was taken Dec. 2 by an iTelescope 50 mm refractor located at an observatory near Mayhill, New Mexico. The streak below the comet was produced by a rocket body (upper stage) passing through the telescope’s field of view during the exposure. Image Credit: NASA.

On Sunday, Dec. 16, the comet known as 46P/Wirtanen will make one of the 10 closest comet flybys of Earth in 70 years, and you may even be able to see it without a telescope.

Although the approach will be a distant 7.1 million miles (11.4 million kilometers, or 30 lunar distances) from Earth, it’s still a fairly rare opportunity. “This will be the closest comet Wirtanen has come to Earth for centuries and the closest it will come to Earth for centuries,” said Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. What’s more, Chodas said, “This could be one of the brightest comets in years, offering astronomers an important opportunity to study a comet up close with ground-based telescopes, both optical and radar.”

Comet Wirtanen has already been visible in larger amateur telescopes, and while the brightness of comets is notoriously difficult to predict, there is the possibility that during its close approach comet Wirtanen could be visible with binoculars or to the naked eye.

Comet. Animation Credit: NASA

Astronomer Carl Wirtanen discovered the comet in 1948 at Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton in Santa Clara County, California. With a width of 0.7 miles (1.1 kilometers), 46P/Wirtanen orbits the Sun fairly quickly for a comet — once every 5.4 years — making it a short-period comet. (Long-period comets, on the other hand, have orbital periods greater than 200 years.) At the time of closest approach, the comet will appear to be located in the constellation Taurus close to the Pleiades.

An observation campaign is underway to take advantage of the close approach for detailed scientific study of the properties of this “hyperactive” comet, which emits more water than expected, given its relatively small nucleus. The campaign, led by the University of Maryland, has worldwide participation across the professional and amateur astronomical communities. NASA-sponsored ground, air and space-based observatories getting in on the action include NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar in California; the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility on Maunakea, Hawaii; the Hubble, Chandra, Swift and Spitzer space telescopes; and an airborne observatory known as the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). The comet will even pass through the observing field of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

The Comet Wirtanen Observing Campaign website is:

Amateur imagery is available on multiple websites, including:

A NASA ScienceCast on Comet Wirtanen is available at:

JPL hosts the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program, an element of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office within the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. Along with the resources NASA puts into understanding asteroids and comets, the Planetary Defense Coordination Office partners with other U.S. government agencies, university-based astronomers and space science institutes across the country. It also collaborates with international space agencies and institutions that are working to track and better understand these smaller objects of the solar system. In addition, NASA values the work of numerous highly skilled amateur astronomers, whose accurate observational data help improve comet and asteroid orbits after discovery.

More information about CNEOS, asteroids and near-Earth objects can be found at:

For more information about NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, visit:

NASA Infrared Telescope Facility:

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/JoAnna Wendel/Tony Greicius/JPL/DC Agle​.

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