A SpaceX Rival Is Launching a Rocket With NASA and Spy Satellites Tonight

A Rocket Lab Electron on the launch pad in New Zealand ahead of the “Don’t Stop Me Now” mission. Rocket Lab

Elon Musk’s SpaceX won’t be the only commercial entity to launch a rocket into space this weekend, as rival Rocket Lab plans to also achieve liftoff early on Saturday.

Rocket Lab, a smaller entity based in Long Beach, California, will finally commence its “Don’t Stop Me Now” mission with an Electron rocket launch in New Zealand. The launch is scheduled for 4:45 PM local time, which translates to just after midnight on the East Coast in the United States.

It’s a tentative time, as high winds have already delayed the launch by several days, providing a further setback for a flight that was initially scheduled for late March but was pushed back several months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The launch can be live-streamed on YouTube, which has been embedded at the bottom of this story.

Like SpaceX’s planned Saturday launch, Rocket Lab’s mission will carry five satellites for several other agencies and companies. In Rocket Lab’s case, the passengers include a satellite built by Boston University students for NASA’s CubeSat Launch initiative as well as several satellites built for the United States’ National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

This will be Rocket Lab’s second launch for the NRO, as well as the second NRO satellite to be launched in New Zealand. Rocket Lab has been a frequent carrier for US military agencies, and the NRO has made using smaller commercial rocket companies a recent priority. The first New Zealand launch was the subject of both secrecy and scrutiny, as the public in New Zealand received late word — and few details — about the partnership. It was the result of years of secretive planning, much of which came to light only after the launch.

“Don’t Stop Me Now” is named after the Queen song in honor of Scott Smith, a long-time Rocket Lab board member and Queen fan who recently passed away.

A SpaceX Rival Is Launching a Rocket With NASA and Spy Satellites Tonight