Rocket Lab wins $14.4 million contract to launch Space Test Program experiment

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COLORADO SPRINGS — The U.S. Space Force announced April 8 it awarded Rocket Lab a $14.4 million contract to launch a Space Test Program experiment that will fly in very low Earth orbit.

The mission named STP-S30 is projected to launch in 2026 on a Rocket Lab Electron small launcher from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. 

The Space Test Program, run by the Space Force, is a facilitator for experiments in space that could be militarily useful. The program dates back to the 1960s and has flown hundreds of civil, defense and commercial missions. 

The 200-kilogram payload for STP-S30 is a new smallsat design, called DiskSat — a plate-shaped satellite, about 40 inches in diameter and one-inch thick. 

DiskSat was developed with NASA funding by the Aerospace Corp. as a possible alternative to the cubesat standard. The Space Force is providing launch and orbital operations support under an agreement with NASA.

“DiskSat will demonstrate sustained VLEO (very low earth orbit) flight and test a unique, 40-inch diameter, disk-shaped satellite bus that is designed to increase on-orbit persistence,” the Space Systems Command said. 

VLEO is an orbit of interest for imaging satellites, communications monitoring, and atmospheric measurements. 

Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle. Credit: Austin Adams

Aerospace engineers designed DiskSat with small launch vehicles in mind. The design is based on the payload volume of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket but can be modified to fit larger diameter launch vehicles. 

According to NASA, the DiskSat plate shape could offer more power and surface area for instruments, providing more applications for small spacecraft. For launch, multiple  DiskSats can be stacked to fit within a launch vehicle’s fairing and are deployed one at a time after the launch vehicle reaches orbit.

Rocket Lab was selected to launch this mission under the Orbital Service Program OSP-4 contract vehicle run by the Space Systems Command. Launch companies selected for OSP-4 missions have to be ready to launch 24 months from task order award.

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