Rocket Lab launched its 18th Electron Mission Jan. 20.

Rocket Lab launched its 18th Electron Mission Jan. 20.

Long Beach-based aerospace company Rocket Lab USA Inc. successfully completed its first mission of 2021 on Jan. 20, deploying a microsatellite into orbit on behalf of German space technology company OHB.

The satellite was carried into space aboard one of Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicles, taking off from New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula shortly before 8:30 p.m. local time.

It was the 18th Electron launch for Rocket Lab and the first of what the company said will be an eventful year.

“We’re thrilled to have kicked off a busy year with a dedicated mission that once again demonstrates Electron’s unique ability to provide our small satellite customers with control over their mission schedule and orbital parameters,” said Chief Executive Peter Beck in a statement.

In 2020, Rocket Lab launched six successful missions, equaling its total from 2019 in spite of challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A mission attempted in July would have brought the 2020 total to seven launches, but the rocket failed to reach orbit due to a detached electrical connector, and the seven small satellites aboard the launch vehicle were destroyed.

Rocket Lab said details of its next mission will be announced shortly. In 2021, the company plans to make use of two new launch pads on Wallops Island, Va., and at Rocket Lab’s existing launch complex in New Zealand.

The company said these launch pads will allow it to significantly ramp up the number of missions it’s able to take on in the future since it will be able to simultaneously prepare for multiple launches.

Rocket Lab is also scheduled to launch a mission with NASA in 2021, when the company will attempt to deploy a microsatellite into lunar orbit. The satellite will be used to test the stability of an orbit planned for the space agency’s Lunar Gateway project — a space station allowing astronauts to access the surface of the moon.

In December, Rocket Lab announced that the spacecraft qualification process for the mission had begun with the launch tentatively planned to take place in the second quarter of 2021.

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