Rocket Lab is planning a 30-satellite launch via its 16th Electron launch from New Zealand. The payload will include a statue of Gnome Chompski*, presumably in an attempt to unlock hitherto unknown Half-Life achievements.
Rocket Lab has launched 65 satellites so far and plans to notch up another 30 in what the company calls its "most diverse" mission yet. The spacecraft are destined for a Sun-synchronous orbit at 500km altitude and come from a variety of customers in the US, France, and New Zealand.
As well as the first student-built satellite from New Zealand (the APSS-1 satellite for the Auckland Space Institute at The University of Auckland), the payload also includes an intriguing tech demo from TriSept in the form of the DragRacer experiment.
DragRacer will see two identical cubesats ejected, one with a tether drag device (consisting of a 70-metre length of Terminator Tape) and one without. The expectation is that the tethered cubesat will re-enter the atmosphere within weeks while the other will linger in orbit for years.
The payload also includes a pair of maritime surveillance satellites and 24 SpaceBEE spacecraft to add to a constellation that is designed to provide satellite communications to IoT devices in remote locations.
Hitching a ride on the Kick Stage will be gaming company Valve's Gnome Chompski, in 150mm 3D printed titanium form. Ostensibly to test and qualify the 3D printing technique for future spacecraft components, "the mission serves as an homage to the innovation and creativity of gamers worldwide," said Rocket Lab.
Valve president Gabe Newell has pledged to donate $1 to the Starship Children's Hospital for every person tuning in to watch the launch online.
Attached to Kick Stage for the duration, Chompski has gone through acceptance testing prior to the flight, according to Rocket Lab boss Peter Beck. Sadly, the bane of achievement-hounds will not survive its flight, burning up following the de-orbiting process.
Elon Musk's Starman – a dummy launched into space in Musk's personal Tesla Roadster in 2018 – therefore need not worry about potential gnome-botherage.
Rocket Lab has a rich history of dropping the odd surprise or two at the end of missions; its last launch showed off the capability of the Kick Stage to complete a plane change in orbit (after payloads had been deployed).
Would it be too much to hope that Chompski might reveal the ship date of Half-Life 3 in the seconds before meeting a fiery end? The launch window opens on 15 November. ®
*Not the linguist and political activist, but a garden gnome found in Valve's first-person shooter Half-Life 2: Episode 2 "inside the communications building, next to the exit door under a wooden panel with some glass bottles". Carrying the gnome to the final destination in the game unlocks the "Little Rocket Man" achievement.