Rocket Lab is attempting to demonstrate its speediest launch cadence yet, with two back-to-back missions for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) scheduled to fly 10 days apart. The first mission, dubbed “Wise One Looks Ahead” or NROL-162, is due to launch no earlier than July 12 at 1:00 AM EST (5:00 AM UTC) from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex on the Māhia Peninsula in New Zealand.
The quick cadence is due, in part, to the completion of a second launch pad at the launch facilities. That will enable Rocket Lab to launch this first mission from Pad A (LC-1A) and the second mission from Pad B (LC-1B) no earlier than July 22. Rocket Lab announced the completion of the second launch pad in February. Including the company’s launch site at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, which has yet to be used, Rocket Lab now has three launch pads at its disposal.
“What we’re doing here with Pad B is essentially doubling our launch capacity,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a video about the new infrastructure. He added that the three pads give Rocket Lab launch capacity from both terrestrial hemispheres, which “for our commercial customers and some of our government customers, they have the flexibility to choose which pad they want to go out and which pad suits their schedule the best.”
Not much is known about the satellite payloads, though that’s by design -- Rocket Lab is launching them on behalf of the NRO, a government agency that builds and operates sats used for intelligence and national security. We do know that these satellites were developed in partnership with the Australian Department of Defence, part of a broader alliance between the two countries.
These two launches by Rocket Lab are part of a larger contract with the NRO. The contract model, called Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR), is designed for NRO to work with commercial partners for quick launches at-scale. The first two launches under Rocket Lab’s RASR contract flew in 2020.