ELaNa-19 — The Launch

IndraStra Global

ELaNa-19 — The Launch

By IndraStra Global News Team

Image Attribute: The Launch of ELaNa-19, Launch Complex-1, Māhia Peninsula at 1:33 a.m. EST on December 16, 2018 (0633 GMT and 7:33 p.m. local New Zealand time) / Source: RocketLab's Twitter Handle.

Image Attribute: The Launch of ELaNa-19, Rocket Lab Launch Complex-1, Māhia Peninsula at 1:33 a.m. EST on December 16, 2018 (0633 GMT and 7:33 p.m. local New Zealand time) / Source: Rocket Lab's Twitter Handle.

On December 16, 2018, the American spaceflight startup Rocket Lab launched 13 tiny satellites "CubeSat" on its first-ever mission for NASA from the company's Launch Complex-1 on New Zealand's Māhia Peninsula at 1:33 a.m. EST (0633 GMT and 7:33 p.m. local New Zealand time). The ELaNa-19 CubeSats together weigh about 172 lbs (78 kg). The tiny satellites were deployed to a 500 km circular orbit at an 85-degree inclination.


The launch is the part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI). Under this initiative, NASA  provides opportunities for small satellite payloads built by universities, high schools and non-profit organizations to fly on upcoming launches.

The launch for NASA came after one month of the first commercial flight of Electron rocket (November 10), which lofted six small satellites and a technology demonstrator to low-Earth orbit, about 310 miles (500 km).

Image Attribute: All CubeSats being installed on the kick stage payload plate inside Electron's fairing & getting ready for final lift-off / Source: RocketLab's Twitter Handle

Image Attribute: All CubeSats being installed on the kick stage payload plate inside Electron's payload fairing & getting ready for final lift-off / Source: Rocket Lab's Twitter Handle.

Image Attribute: All CubeSats inside Electron's payload fairing / Source: RocketLab's Twitter Handle

Image Attribute: All CubeSats inside Electron's payload fairing / Source: Rocket Lab's Twitter Handle

The company specifically focuses on commercial small satellite launch segment by deploying its Electron booster rocket which is 57 feet (17 meters) tall and can carry about 500 lbs. (227 kg) to Earth orbit for $6 million/mission. With the price split among multiple CubeSats, each experiment can reach orbit for just a few hundreds of thousands of dollars under a shared arrangement.

The launch vehicle is fitted with Rutherford Engine which is the first electric-pump-fed engine to power an orbital rocket. It is used as both a first-stage and as a second-stage engine, which simplifies logistics and improves economies of scale. The engine components are 3-D printed, using a method called electron-beam melting.
Image Attribute: Press Release image of the Rutherford Electric pump-fed engine / Source: Wikipedia
Image Attribute: Press Release image of the Rutherford Electric pump-fed engine / Source: Wikipedia

This launch was the third orbital launch of the year for the company, which kick-started Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa)-19 mission for NASA. The ELaNa launch mission is also the part of NASA’s forward-leaning Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) initiative.

"The NASA Venture Class Launch Service contract was designed from the ground up to be an innovative way for NASA to work and encourage new launch companies to come to the market and enable a future class of rockets for the growing small satellite market.  Matching ELaNa-19 with the Electron rocket gives these advanced scientific and educational satellites first-class tickets to space while providing valuable insight for potential NASA missions in the future," said Justin Treptow NASA ELaNa-19 Mission Manager.

While the mission itself is called ELaNa-19, Rocket Lab also names each Electron launch vehicle individually. Previous Rocket Lab designations "It’s a Test", "Still Testing" and "It’s Business Time" doubled as both mission and vehicle names. For the ELaNa-19 mission, the Electron launch vehicle is named "This One’s For Pickering" in honor of NZ-born scientist and former Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), Sir William Pickering. For 22 years, Sir William headed JPL and led the team that developed the first US satellite, Explorer I, launched in 1958.

With reporting by Reuters, RocketLab Newroom, and Space.com