Rocket Lab to launch 'a funny looking cactus' from New Zealand

DoD mission inspires Electron rocket name

Left: The Rocket Lab Electron rocket on the pad in New Zealand. Right: The DoD payload encapsulated in the rocket nose cone. (Images: Rocket Lab)

California-based space company Rocket Lab is preparing its Electron rocket to lift off on a fifth mission and while the launch will happen from New Zealand, this rocket has a very Western U.S. vibe.

Rocket Lab likes to name its rockets for their missions. For example, its first paying mission was called "It's Business Time." This one is called “That’s a Funny Looking Cactus” because the payloads are for the U.S. government National Security Space Launch program based out of New Mexico.

The company is targeting Saturday after 2 a.m. ET to launch Electron with three satellites: SPARC-1, Falcon ODE and Harbinger. The entire mission is called STP-27rd.

The Department of Defense Space Test Program is based at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Here are some quick facts about the mission:

What's launching

All three small satellites are experimental missions testing technology developed for the U.S. Air Force.

Harbinger is a micro-satellite built by York Space Systems for the U.S. Air Force. It’s designed to test X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar that can provide Earth observations regardless of time or day or cloud cover. Synthetic Aperture Radar is typically used for monitoring sea ice, wind patterns, erosion and other climate-related data.

The Falcon Orbital Debris Experiment, or ODE, is a small satellite designed to evaluate ground-based tracking of space debris, also known as space junk. The spacecraft is an educational mission for Air Force cadets.

The Space Plug and Play Architecture Research CubeSat-1 or SPRAC-1 is a U.S. and Swedish experimental mission to study space situational awareness concepts and support live experiments with different waveforms.

The meaning behind the patch

The mission patch encompasses a few odes to the state of New Mexico and the mission, including a roadrunner, green chili and a cacti and stone formation. Three flying birds represent the three satellites on board and a Kiwi Bird, because New Zealand, according to Rocket Lab.

The T-shirts available with the patch, are quickly selling out in the Rocket Lab online store.

How to watch

Rocket Lab will stream the launch from New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula on its website and social media.

About the Author: