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Rocket Lab Electron launch
Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket lifts off from its launch pad in New Zealand. (Rocket Lab via YouTube)

Rocket Lab sent a foursome of satellites into orbit today for a threesome of customers, including the Seattle-based BlackSky Earth-watching venture.

BlackSky’s sibling subsidiary, Spaceflight, handled the prelaunch logistics for the Global-4 satellite and for a pair of experimental U.S. Air Force satellites. The fourth spacecraft in the set is the first satellite for what’s destined to become a maritime surveillance constellation fielded by a French venture called UnseenLabs.

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket rose from the company’s launch pad on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 12:12 a.m. local time Aug. 20 (5:12 a.m. PT Aug. 19). It successfully went through second-stage separation and fired up its kick stage to deploy the satellites into a 335-mile-high, medium-inclination orbit.

“That’s now eight Electron launches to date and a total of 39 satellites delivered to orbit,” Rocket Lab said in a tweet.

Today’s mission was nicknamed “Look Ma, No Hands” to reflect how the rocket looks when its strongback support structure is retracted on the launch pad. It was originally set for last week, but had to be delayed due to worries about winds.

Spaceflight – which, like BlackSky, is a subsidiary of Seattle’s Spaceflight Industries – hailed the successful mission. “All payloads have been deployed! What a way to kick off a week,” the company tweeted.

As its name suggests, Global-4 is the fourth satellite in BlackSky’s Earth-observation constellation. Global-3 went into orbit just a couple of months ago during a previous Rocket Lab mission, and at least four more satellites are expected to join the set later this year.

BlackSky’s satellites are built at a factory south of Seattle by LeoStella, a joint venture involving Spaceflight Industries and Europe’s Thales Alenia Space. They’re designed to provide rapid-revisit satellite imagery for monitoring phenomena ranging from crop health to the damage done by natural disasters.

The two satellites launched for the U.S. Air Force Space Command will test new technologies including propulsion, power, communications and drag capabilities for future spacecraft.

UnseenLabs’ constellation of nanosatellites will monitor radio transmissions to keep track of ships at sea and watch out for activities such as piracy or illegal fishing.

Today’s launch featured the first use of an advanced data recorder called Brutus, which Rocket Lab hopes will provide the telemetry it needs to develop a next-generation Electron rocket with a reusable first-stage booster.

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