Rocket Lab pulls off 'perfect' late-night launch

Rocket Lab has made its 15th successful commercial launch, putting a Japanese company's radar satellite into orbit on Tuesday night.

The flight, dubbed 'The Owl's Night Begins', took off in clear weather from Mahia Peninsula just after 11pm.

Everything went according to plan, putting the satellite into an orbit 500km above the ground.

"Congratulations to the team at Synspective for the successful deployment of their first satellite," said Rocket Lab boss Peter Beck.

"We're proud to be able to continue to provide dedicated launch opportunities for small satellite customers like Synspective. Electron provides truly tailored access to space, enabling our customers to choose exactly when they launch and under their specific mission parametres."

Synspective, a Japanese start-up, hopes to build a 30-strong array of satellites to map and photograph the Earth. Its point of difference is its new synthetic aperture radar technology, which can peer through clouds and bad weather. 

Beck called the launch "perfect" on Twitter, tweeting a photo snapped by a skywatcher in Invercargill.

The satellite is larger than previous payloads delivered to space by Rocket Lab, and was originally scheduled to launch from South America aboard a rocket made by European company Arianespace. Rocket Lab picked up the contract after Arianespace suffered a launch failure in late 2019.

It was Rocket Lab's 17th launch of the Electron rocket. The only failures were the first - which turned out to be a software error, not hardware - and the 13th, which took off successfully but failed to reach orbit. No changes were made, Rocket Lab instead saying future failures of the same type could be avoided through better quality control.

"Thanks to the efforts and hard work of both the Rocket Lab and Synspective teams we were able to achieve a successful launch as scheduled, despite the difficult environment of COVID-19," said Synspective founder Motoyuki Arai. 

The launch brings the total number of satellites put into orbit from Mahia Peninsula to 96. 

Details of the next Rocket Lab mission- scheduled for early next year - will be announced soon, the US-NZ company said.