NASA awards Venture Class contracts to Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit [spaceflightinsider.com]
NASA has awarded [nasa.gov] launch contracts to two launch providers, Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit, whose rockets carry smaller payloads than the traditional workhorse rockets used to orbit uncrewed spacecraft and satellites.
With technology continuously making space hardware lighter and smaller, the new CubeSats being built today are quite capable of making scientific studies and testing new spacecraft technologies. NASA is looking to further utilize these low cost platforms.
In order to keep CubeSat costs effective, they are traditionally launched as a secondary payloads on larger launchers such as the United Launch Alliance Atlas V or SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets.
The new Venture Class contracts puts these low-cost payloads onto smaller, lower-cost launchers. Each rocket could allow NASA to send approximately 12 CubeSats into orbit without having to be constrained to a certain trajectory when flying as a secondary payload. This could give NASA the ability to send CubeSat payloads into orbits that are best suited to accomplish particular missions or perform the scientific research they were designed for.
Related: Rocket Lab's Second "Electron" Rocket Launch Succeeds, Reaches Orbit [soylentnews.org]
Rocket Lab Set to Launch Commercial Payloads on April 20 [soylentnews.org]