Countdown begins for Rocket Lab launch

Rocket Lab postponed the launch of its second trial rocket until Tuesday after cancelling its launch on Monday afternoon. 

Rocket Lab spokeswoman Morgan Bailey said the launch was cancelled due a mix of atmospheric conditions and space traffic. 

The International Space Station flying through orbit coupled with the weather conditions gave a tight six minute window to attempt launch at 2.30pm, she said.

Rockets can be launched to fly around other spacecraft but that was too difficult with the weather, she said. 

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Rocket Lab made the call to postpone Monday's launch to give a bit more breathing room, she said.

It will try to launch the Electron rocket, named 'Still Testing', from 2.30pm on Tuesday afternoon.

It could launch any time within the four hour launch window from 2.30pm to 6.30pm.

The cancellation comes after the 200 engineers at Rocket Lab's Māhia Peninsula launch site were feeling "pretty confident" on Monday morning.

'Still Testing', was due to launch from its Māhia Peninsula launch pad last week on Friday but high altitude winds and last minute preparations delayed launch to this week. 

Bailey said the weekend was spent giving the 23-metre carbon-fibre rocket a "final check-up".

An imminent launch remained "weather and systems dependent", she said.

The company will live stream the launch for the first time. Stuff will cast the stream on Tuesday, the stream will begin 12 minutes before launch.

If successful, 'Still Testing' will fly through the atmosphere and within eight -and-a-half minutes, release three satellites the size of shoeboxes into orbit.

It will take "a bit longer" for the rocket to deliver information from 30,000 data points on the rocket back to the mission control station in Auckland, Bailey said. 

The launch could be cancelled due to weather or technical problems, known as scrubbed, as late as one millisecond before lift-off.

It is the first time such a space mission has been attempted from New Zealand.

Deploying satellites is what the Electron rocket was built to do. This rocket has been four years in the making. 

The satellites will gather information from space for United States companies Spire Global and Planet Labs. 

Spire Global is mostly in the business of tracking ships and planes.

Planet Labs focuses on aerial photography but also  markets its services to defence and intelligence agencies.

Rocket Lab launched its first Electron rocket, named 'It's A Test', in May this year, three days into its launch window.

Adverse weather delayed that flight too. It launched successfully but did not reach orbit as planned.

Timeline for launch:

Seven hours before launch: Emergency crews, local officials and Rocket Lab team are briefed and move into position for launch.

Six hours before launch: Road to the launch site closed.

Four hours before launch: Electron lifted to vertical position and filled with fuel.

Two-and-a-half hours before launch: Launch pad personnel exit area in preparation for launch.

Two hours before launch: Electron filled with liquid oxygen.

One hour before launch: Aviation authority advised to alert aircraft pilots of potential hazards.

Ten minutes before launch: Final preparations for launch commence.

Two minutes before launch: Autosequence commences and the Electron's on-board computers initiate the launch sequence.

Two seconds before launch: Ignition of the nine Rutherford engines powering Electron's first stage.

Launch: Lift-off. Electron climbs from the launch pad, initially rising slowly and increasing in speed as the Electron gets lighter.

Two minutes and thirty seconds into flight: Engines powering Stage 1 cut off.

Two minutes and thirty-four seconds into flight: Stage 1 of Electron separates. 

Two minutes and thirty-six seconds into flight: The vacuum Rutherford engine on Stage 2 ignites. 

Three minutes and four seconds into flight: The Electron's fairing (the protective casing around the satellite) separates. 

Eight minutes and eight seconds into flight: Electron reaches orbit.

Eight minutes and 14 seconds into flight: Stage 2 engine cuts off.

Eight minutes and 31 seconds into flight: Payload separates from the launch vehicle.

 - Stuff