DARPA launched it’s experimental communication satellite from New Zealand using small sat launcher Electron. This marks third successful commercial launch and fifth overall of Rocket Lab since it’s first launch in 2017.
Dubbed the R3D2 mission, the flight sent up a small, 330-pound satellite into orbit, designed to test out a new kind of radio antenna. Made out of a type of material known as Kapton, the antenna is as thin as tissue paper, but able to grow in size while in space. The antenna launched on the rocket folded up inside a canister, and now that it’s in orbit, the antenna will unfurl and expand out into its full shape that’s more than seven feet wide. The design should provide more area to reflect radio waves.
This technology, if successful, could become a useful option for small satellite operators that want to include larger, more powerful radio communications on their tiny vehicles. Additionally, this particular flight came together in a very short time frame, according to Rocket Lab. With this launch, DARPA wanted to demonstrate a relatively short timeline for building a spacecraft and getting into orbit. Rocket Lab says it contracted this launch with DARPA mid-last year, and that it only took a few days to get the spacecraft integrated on the rocket before launch — a process that usually takes months.