Watch a replay of the launch livestream below

Rocket Lab successfully launched its fourth mission from Mahia at 12.27pm today, following several days of delays, delivering a communications satellite into low-Earth orbit for US military agency DARPA.

The deployment of the DARPA satellite from the Electron's
The deployment of the DARPA satellite from the Electron's "kickstarter" was not included in the livestream, but Rocket Lab offered this artist's impression.
A still from the launch livestream.
A still from the launch livestream.
No white collars here: the black T-shirted Kiwi crew at Rocket Lab's Mission Control in Auckland.
No white collars here: the black T-shirted Kiwi crew at Rocket Lab's Mission Control in Auckland.

US Department of Defense agency DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military.

And the Trump Administration hopes to have a dedicated ''Space Force'' up and running by as early as 2020, vice president Michael Pence last year described space as ''a war-fighting domain''.


But despite the nature of DARPA, and Rocket Lab having recently drawn heat over being part-owned by US military/aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, founder Peter Beck has emphasised to the Herald that R3D2 would be purely a communication satellite.

''There are a lot of dual technologies that can be used in space and this antenna is a great example. While it has a military communication application, there is equal amount of interest in it being used for commercial purposes as well," Beck said.

He said it was an ''honour'' to work with US agency.

The DARPA R3D2 satellite Rocket Lab will carry. Photo / Supplied
The DARPA R3D2 satellite Rocket Lab will carry. Photo / Supplied

"Rapid acquisition of small satellite launch capabilities is increasingly important to US Government organisations like DARPA," Beck said.

And Rocket Lab posted this morning, "This innovative mission intends to space-qualify a prototype reflect array antenna to improve radio communications in small spacecraft."

While the company is playing down the military potential of the satellite it is carrying, a strategic studies academic says aligning so closely to a key part of the US defence establishment made this country more vulnerable to America's enemies.

''They would probably see us as much more vulnerable target if they did want to collect information or disrupt things,'' said Terry Johanson, a lecturer at Massey University's centre for defence and security studies.

Rocket Lab has a long history with DARPA, which was one of its first commercial customers.


The Auckland startup's innovative engine and fuel-handling technologies attracted attention from the US early on.

In 2010, Rocket Lab landed a DARPA contract that involved research around a viscous liquid monopropellant (VLM) fuel that was thixotropic – neither a solid nor a liquid. According to John Bridges and David Downs in their book No.8 Re-wired, the result of this work was demonstrated to US military clients in 2012.

Rocket Lab is hoping to achieve a one-a-fortnight launch frequency by the end of this year between Mahia and its new launch site at Nasa's Wallops Launch Facility in the US state of Virginia, which will open later this year.

Securing NZ Space Agency's go for lift

Today's launch had to get the all-clear from a recently-formed wing of MBIE.

The New Zealand Space Agency is part of the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment and says DARPA's payload was approved just before Christmas.

General manager of science, innovation and international Peter Crabtree said all payloads launched from New Zealand needed the approval of economic development minister David Parker.

Before granting a permit, the minister must be satisfied that the requirements in the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act are met, including that:

• The payload will be operated safely and meet New Zealand's requirements on orbital debris mitigation.

• The proposed operation of the payload is consistent with New Zealand's international obligations.

• Its operations do not pose a risk to national security.

• Its operations are not contrary to New Zealand's national interests.

The minister can decline a payload permit if the proposed activity of the payload is contrary to New Zealand's national interests or security.

''In the case of DARPA's R3D2 payload, the New Zealand Space Agency and the minister are satisfied that the proposed activity meets the tests in the act,'' said Crabtree.