#LookMaNoHands – 20 August 2019
Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket lifts off from Mahia Peninsula at 12.12am on 20 August 2019 (NZT), on its eighth mission, dubbed ‘Look Ma, No Hands’. Electron successfully deployed satellites into orbit for UNSEENLABS, BlackSky Inc and the United Space Air Force Space Command.
This launch was photographed from Castlepoint, approximately 230 km south of the launch site. While weather conditions were perfect for a clear view of the launch, the high level of illumination from a full moon made photographing the rocket in one exposure impossible. To overcome this, I shot approximately 100 x 6 second exposures, and combined them into a single image in post-processing.
This was my first capture of a Rocket Lab launch, and one of the first ever streak shots taken in New Zealand, as it was only the second launch that had occurred after sunset. There were many unknowns, including whether the launch would proceed at all, and whether or not it could even be seen at this distance. Thankfully the gamble paid off, and I was treated to a spectacular launch, igniting a passion for capturing rockets.
#RunningOutOfFingers – 6 December 2019
Electron launches on its tenth mission, dubbed ‘Running Out Of Fingers’, at 9.18pm on 6 December 2019. Another successful launch for Rocketlab, this rideshare mission deployed six PocketCube satellites for AlbaOrbital, and another for ALE Co Ltd.
I ventured all the way to Mahia from Wellington for this launch – another gamble, given the frequent postponements due to technical issues and weather conditions. However, the stars aligned, and the launch proceeded with perfect timing to observe the ‘Twilight Phenomenon’ for the first time in New Zealand. This effect causes a large explosion-like cloud behind the rocket. This is caused by the rapid expansion of the rocket’s vapor plume in the low pressure of space, which at that height above earth, is illuminated by the sun (which is below the horizon with respect to the observer on the Earth’s surface). The illuminated vapor plume, framed against a dark starry sky, was breathtaking to behold and a privilege to capture.
#TheOwlsNightBegins – 15 December 2020
Dubbed ‘The Owl’s Night Begins’, Electrons 17th mission launched from Mahia, New Zealand at 11.09pm on 15 December 2020. This mission was another success for Rocket Lab, deploying one Earth observing satellite into orbit for Japanese company Synspective.
Photographed once again from Castlepoint, conditions were perfect to attempt a single exposure to capture the entire launch sequence. I had hoped to capture more of the second stage burn in this exposure, however this result was confirmation that even under the best conditions, the second stage is simply too faint to be picked up on camera.
After enjoying watching the first stage burn complete, we began packing up our cameras and chatting about the photos we had just taken. It wasn’t until about 5 minutes later, when someone yelled “what is that!?”, that we turned around to see the ‘twilight phenomenon’ in full force on the opposing southern horizon. I scrambled to get my camera set up again, and managed to capture one lucky exposure of Electron and its glowing vapor plume, before they disappeared over the horizon.
#RunningOutOfToes – 15 May 2021
Rocket Labs 20th mission, dubbed ‘Running Out Of Toes’, launched at 11.11pm on 15 May 2021. Electron was carrying two satellites for BlackSky Inc, however an anomaly occurred shortly after stage separation, resulting in the loss of the mission.
For this shot I got as close as I reasonably could, by venturing out onto the peninsula, where I found a wide open beach and an iconically kiwi Cabbage tree. This scene shows an interesting contrast between a deeply rural and isolated settlement, and controversial technology being launched only a few kilometers away.