Rocket Lab successfully launches its 12th Electron, carrying NASA and NRO payloads

Darrell Etherington

Rocket Lab has returned to active launch status from its first launchpad in New Zealand, after the global COVID-19 pandemic temporarily paused its work there. Early this morning, it flew its 12th Electron launch vehicle from its launch site on NZ's Mahia Peninsula, carrying payloads on behalf of the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), NASA and the University of New South Wales Canberra.

The launch occurred at 1:13 AM EDT (5:13 PM local time) and went off without a hitch. Rocket Lab later confirmed that payload deployment also went exactly to plan once the Electron reached its target orbit.

Rocket Lab has been gearing up for significant expansion of its launch capabilities, with a new launch site in the U.S. on Wallops Island in Virginia. The launch facility is now open, and its first mission had been scheduled to fly earlier this year, but that launch got pushed back in part because of delays resulting from NASA's efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 with facility closures and a focus on essential missions.

New Zealand is now fully out of lockdown, however -- the country's fast action and relatively small, dispersed population allowed it to contain cases of COVID-19 fairly quickly, and reduce the infection rate to zero. That's good news both for Rocket Lab's existing operation, and for its ongoing work to establish a second launch site at its Mahia facility, which is well underway and could go into operation sometime later this year.