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ACRUX-1’s journey to space: how will it get up there?

Updated: Dec 7, 2019

Three years in the making, and we’ve finally reached our CRUXial point. ACRUX-1 is going to space on an Electron rocket with Rocket Lab and Spaceflight aboard the #MakeItRain mission, which is Rocket Lab’s seventh Electron launch. The launch complex is located on New Zealand’s Mãhia Peninsula.

Here’s a quick recap of what ACRUX-1 has gone through leading up to launch, as well as some FYI of what happens during a CubeSat launch.

Leading up to launch: ACRUX-1 testing

Satellite undergoing thermal bakeout at Mt Stromlo (Image credit: Kaleb Foster, MSP)

Final integration tests were completed by engineers from MSP to ensure all systems were good to go. Further testing was then done at the Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre at Mt Stromlo in Canberra to conduct environmental testing which included:

  1. Vibration testing to simulate lift off environment

  2. Thermal Bakeout to simulate the vacuum environment in space and to ensure there are no issues with outgassing

Engineers back in Melbourne patiently waited to hear that all systems were still functioning after Mt Stromlo, and indeed they were. ACRUX-1 was wrapped in a sealed ‘clean bag’ and secured in a pelican case for transport. MSP engineer, Rowan Skewes, took the pelican case with the satellite in it on a plane to Seattle, USA. It required an export license and as with all precious cargo had to be taken on as carry on.

At the launch provider’s facility, ACRUX-1 was unwrapped in a clean room facility and integrated into the Maxwell CubeSat Dispenser with two other 1U satellites. The dispenser was then shipped to Rocket Lab facilities in New Zealand. There, it is placed inside the rocket in a pre-defined spot set aside specifically for it. 

Countdown to launch: what happens in the final leg before lift-off

Now that our launch window is open, Rocket Lab is ensuring conditions are perfect before giving the OK for launch that day. Once they do, the preparations begin for the day. Hours before launch the rocket is prepared by fueling it up, clearing out personnel and creating safety zones for marine space and airspace. 

T-18:00 – The Launch Director gives the go/no-go for launch depending on launch operators confirming the rocket is ready. 

T-02:00 – The auto sequence commences and computers on-board initiate launch sequence. It’s about to get bumpy! 

T-00:02 – Ignition of nine Rutherford engines powering the first stage of the rocket. This is what ACRUX-1 was vibration tested for! 

T-00:00 – LIFT OFF!

T+02:34 – Main engines cut off. This is when the shaking finally settles a bit. 

T+08:52 – Electron reaches its orbit and separates from the Kick Stage and the vacuum engines.

T+53:26 – Payload has reached its Low Earth Orbit (LEO) at 450 km altitude, and will eject the satellites out of the side of the rocket and into space. Check out this breathtaking video for a bird’s eye view of a similar CubeSat launch and payload deployment:

Want to see an animated example of satellite deployment from a Rocket Lab Electron rocket? Check out this video here.

MSP ground control will then await a beacon (that “ping”) from the satellite that would confirm ACRUX-1 mission success. 

With our launch window now open, we’ll be keeping you updated about Rocket Lab’s #MakeItRain launch status over social media, as well as for all ACRUX-1 status updates thereafter:



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