SpaceX competitor Rocket Lab lifts NASA and spy satellites in 12th launch

Rocket Lab's mission, called Don't Stop Me Now, blasts off just hours before the latest SpaceX Starlink launch.

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Eric Mack
2 min read

After quitting time on Friday for most of us, launch time was just getting started for the commercial space industry this weekend.

Startup Rocket Lab's 12th mission, dubbed Don't Stop Me Now, lifted off from its launch pad in New Zealand at 10:12 p.m. PDT Friday. 

The mission was a ride-share that delivered a NASA-sponsored CubeSat built by students and staff at Boston University to study Earth's magnetic field. The CubeSat will later release eight even smaller pico satellites with sensors to track space weather. It was joined in the payload by the Australian M2 Pathfinder satellite to test space communications architecture.

Also sharing the lift were three payloads for American spy shop the National Reconnaissance Office, or the NRO. 

Meanwhile, SpaceX carried out its first Starlink ride-share, on Saturday morning from Florida. That flight featured a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 58 Starlink broadband satellites and three planet-observing birds for Planet Labs.   

With Elon Musk and SpaceX setting their sights on bigger spacecraft in the near future, and on far-off destinations like the moon and Mars, other commercial space companies, including Rocket Lab, are following the path paved by Musk and offering launches of smaller satellites to orbit.

Rocket Lab is headquartered in California, like SpaceX. It also aims to retrieve and reuse its rockets, but rather than land them like Musk's Falcon 9, Rocket Lab hopes to snag its Electron rockets out of the air using a helicopter shortly after launch. The company has demonstrated the recovery process but has yet to recover a rocket during one of its commercial launches.  

As for the musical name of Rocket Lab's mission, it has nothing to do with NASA or the NRO.

"The mission has been named 'Don't Stop Me Now' in recognition of Rocket Lab board member and avid Queen fan Scott Smith, who recently passed away," reads a release from the company

Rocket Lab didn't attempt to recover the Electron on this mission, but it did livestream the launch, which you can watch above.

Watch this: Robotic US Air Force space plane launches on its sixth mission