Rocket Lab’s most recent mission, dubbed “Return-to-Sender”, saw an Electron launch vehicle lift off from Launch Complex 1 on Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand, at 0220 GMT on 20 November. The mission was carrying 29 smallsats/CubeSats, plus an advertising payload.

The launch vehicle’s first stage was orientated for re-entry back end first, and successfully parachuted back to Earth via a drogue and then main parachute system. It splashed down in the ocean and was secured by a recovery ship. This was a test of a parachute-equipped reusable stage design which, it is hoped, will in future be captured by a helicopter as it parachutes down.

The “Return to Sender” mission plan for the splashdown mission of Electron. Courtesy: RocketLab

The satellites were successfully carried to a Sun-synchronous orbit by the remaining stages.

The DRAGRACER mission will compare two satellites to test the effectiveness of new tether technologies designed to accelerate spacecraft re-entry and reduce orbital debris at the conclusion of space missions.

TriSept has completed the integration of a pair of qualified Millennium Space Systems 6U small satellites, one featuring a 70 metre long “Terminator Tape” drag device and one without. The controlled spacecraft should deorbit in approximately 45 days, while the second identical spacecraft is expected to remain in orbit for seven to nine years.

BRO-2 and BRO-3 are part of Unseenlabs’ planned constellation of about 20 electronic intelligence satellites dedicated to maritime surveillance.

Swarm’s 24 1/4U SpaceBEE satellites are part of its planned constellation of 150 satellites to provide affordable IoT (Internet of Things) communications services to remote areas. The SpaceBEES were deployed by two of Rocket Lab’s 12U Maxwell CubeSat dispensers.

The student-built Waka Āmiorangi Aotearoa APSS-1 satellite is designed to monitor electrical activity in Earth’s upper atmosphere to test whether ionospheric disturbances can predict earthquakes.

Finally, not really a spacecraft but a 0.15m tall Gnome model called Chompsk was carried as a publicity event to promote game developer the Valve Corporation – creators of the Half-Life franchise. The 150 mm gnome will remain attached to Electron’s Kick Stage.

Post Script: Plans to launch Electron from the Wallops Island launch site in the USA have been set back by delays in NASA certifying the autonomous flight termination system (AFTS) because of software issues.