Rocket Roundup for February 5, 2020

By on February 5, 2020 in

It’s been yet another quiet week with only one orbital launch.  Annie shares what she can about the secretive National Reconnaissance Office’s payload launched on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket.

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The one and only orbital launch for the week was Rocket Lab’s Electron, which launched the “Birds of a Feather” mission on Friday, January 31 at 2:56 AM (UTC).  In a statement made by Rocket Lab, the planned splashdown went as expected and the first stage made it to sea-level in one piece. It did disintegrate when it collided with the ocean’s surface.

Because the payload is essentially a spy satellite — and therefore classified —  there’s very little public information available.  

Here’s what I can tell you: this was the first launch of a National Reconnaissance Office satellite on an Electron rocket, and the first time that a NRO mission has been launched outside of the United States.

This launch had two logos!

The circular logo from Rocket Lab depicts the Mahia coastline with the silhouette of two birds in the foreground.  Meanwhile in the background, an Electron rocket is launching. There are five stars in the sky, as well as the number eleven.  The border contains the text “NROL-151, Rocket Lab, Birds of a Feather.” Those two bird silhouettes are of a kiwi and an eagle, and they represent New Zealand and the United States.  The number 11 is the literally the number of launches Electron has had so far. Stars usually represent satellites, but I don’t think that’s the case this time. Dave thinks that the five stars plus the 11 is a sly way to commemorate the “151” mission number.  Another possibility given the nature of the mission is that the stars are a reference to “Five Eyes,” an intelligence alliance between the United States, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.

According to the NRO, “[t]he NROL-151 mission logo is a light-hearted way to wish NROL-151 good fortune and luck on its mission.”  Front and center is a six-point stag, with a rabbit’s foot and fuzzy dice hanging from its antlers. Above the stag’s head and between the antlers is a wishbone.  Underneath and in front of the stag’s chest is an upturned horseshoe with a four-leaf clover. Aside from the stag, all of the symbols in this logo are common good luck charms in North America.

NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir pose with the Hypergiant SEOPS Slingshot deployer, which carried seven CubeSats on the Cygnus spacecraft’s forward hatch for deployment after the cargo ship’s departure from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA, via SpaceFlightNow

And now for satellites that hitchhiked to orbit:

Stephen Clark of SpaceFlightNow reported that fourteen CubeSats were successfully deployed by Cygnus NG-12.  The craft departed the space station on January 31 and raised its orbit to a safe altitude to release the satellites.

To wrap things up, here’s a running tally of a few spaceflight statistics for the year:

  • Toilets burned up: 0
  • Total new satellites in orbit: 143
  • Total satellites from launches: 129
  • Total launches: 7
  • China: 3
  • USA: 2
  • French Guiana: 1
  • New Zealand: 1

And that rounds out our show for today.

Thank you all for listening. Today’s script was written by myself and Dave Ballard.  The Daily Space is produced by Susie Murph, and is a product of the Planetary Science Institute, a 501(c)3 non profit dedicated to exploring our Solar System and beyond. We are here thanks to the generous contributions of people like you. Want to become a supporter of the show? Check us out at patreon.com/cosmoquestx

About Susie Murph

Susie Murph is a Communications Specialist at CosmoQuest. She produces the Astronomy Cast, the Weekly Space Hangout and Daily Space.

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