Rocket Lab successfully launched the NROL-151 ‘Birds of a Feather’ satellite mission for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) on Jan. 31.
The company’s Electron rocket lifted off from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 facility in Mahia, New Zealand at 3:56 p.m local time Friday (0256 GMT) with the NROL-151 payload.
“Thank you to the entire team who helped make our first dedicated launch from New Zealand a success,” said U.S. Air Force Colonel Chad Davis, director, NRO Office of Space Launch. “We especially thank the men and women of both Rocket Lab and the New Zealand Space Agency for their focus and hard work helping us achieve another successful mission for the NRO. We look forward to our continued collaboration.”
NRO is the U.S. Government agency in charge of designing, building, launching, and maintaining America’s intelligence satellites. Rocket Lab is a private American aerospace manufacturer and smallsat launch service provider with a wholly-owned New Zealand subsidiary. The NROL-151 mission is the first mission for both NRO and Rocket Lab this year.
The contract for the launch was competitively awarded to Rocket Lab by NRO under the Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract vehicle. RASR allows the NRO to explore new launch opportunities that can provide a streamlined, commercial approach for getting small satellites into space. This approach allows the NRO to pursue the use of both large and small satellites for an integrated architecture designed to provide global coverage against a wide range of intelligence requirements.
This launch is the first one under the RASR contract.
Rocket Lab has been launching to orbit since January 2018 and is now the world’s leading dedicated small satellite launch provider. The company has delivered 47 satellites to orbit on the Electron launch vehicle, enabling operations in space debris mitigation, Earth observation, ship and airplane tracking, and radio communications.