A Rocket Lab rocket launches with two satellites after an unexpected solar storm. Full details

Rocket Lab’s Friday morning (March 24) launch was delayed 90 minutes by an unexpectedly strong geomagnetic storm that meteorologists hadn’t anticipated, but which ended up without a hitch from the company’s launch site in New Zealand.

According to Space, the mission, dubbed “The Beat Goes On,” sent two Earth-observing satellites owned by Seattle-based BlackSky into low Earth orbit.

About 19 minutes after liftoff, Rocket Lab confirmed that the first stage of an Electron was in the Pacific Ocean after its parachute drop. The company’s engineers will retrieve the stage and ship it to Rocket Lab’s ground facility for testing and future reuse.

The geomagnetic storm that caused the launch delay was, according to space weather experts, the strongest in six years, reaching a G4 level on a magnetic storm scale of 5. The intensity of the storm was completely unexpected.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the world’s leading space weather forecaster, predicted a small G2 event the day before launch.

Geomagnetic storms are also caused by intense solar winds, which are streams of charged particles from the sun’s atmosphere.

When these particles interact with gases in Earth’s atmosphere, they change the density of the atmosphere, which can cause problems for satellites in low Earth orbits.

Last year, SpaceX lost a batch of 40 Starlink satellites after they were launched in a relatively minor geomagnetic storm. However, the current launch appears to have avoided the space weather trap, and the two satellites were successfully launched from the rocket’s upper stage 54 and 55 minutes after liftoff, respectively.

Heading into a circular orbit with a target altitude of 280 miles (450 kilometers), the two Black Sky satellites will join 14 satellites in the company’s satellite constellation, nine of which have been launched by Rocket Lab.