The DARPA R3D2 mission was Rocket Lab’s fifth mission and the company’s first launch of 2019.
The mission launched the R3D2 (Radio Frequency Risk Reduction Deployment Demonstration) payload for DARPA. R3D2 was a prototype reflect array antenna designed to improve radio communications in small spacecraft.
The R3D2 antenna, made of a tissue-thin Kapton membrane, packed tightly inside a small satellite for stowage during launch, before deploying to its full size of 2.25 meters in diameter once it reached low Earth orbit. By compacting a large antenna into a small satellite, the spacecraft can provide significant capability, negating the need for satellite owners to build large satellites that can only be launched as a ride-share payload on big rockets with significant price tags and lengthy delays.
The 150kg R3D2 satellite lifted off on an Electron rocket from Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula and was deployed to a 425kmx425km orbit at 39.5 degrees by Electron’s Kick Stage, a nimble upper stage designed to insert payloads with precise accuracy before deorbiting itself and leaving no space junk behind.
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