Rocket Lab Ushers In New Era With Successful Space Launch
Rocket Lab has just opened a completely “new era in commercial access to space” with the second successful launch of the small Electron rocket from its base in New Zealand at the beginning of this year.
To be more precise, on January 20, 2018, after several weather-related delays, the Electron rocket took to the skies from the company’s Launch Complex 1 on the Māhia Peninsula in New Zealand.
Some eight and a half hours after lift-off, the rocket successfully reached orbit before deploying a customer payload as part of the “Still Testing” mission which aimed to test the rocket’s orbital deployment system.
It marked the first time the Electron has completed a full mission, which in turn validated the company’s claims that the rocket is capable of carrying and deploying small commercial payloads to orbit.
Still, Testing followed the company’s first mission (called “It’s a Test”), which saw safety officials kill the flight before reaching orbit due to an independent contractor ground equipment issue.
The follow-up mission, though, was a resounding success, with the Electron rocket successfully deploying a Dove Pioneer Earth-imaging satellite for launch customer Planet, in addition to two Lemur-2 satellites for weather and ship tracking firm Spire.
The company initially planned to launch a third and a final test mission, but the success of Still Testing prompted Rocket Lab to scrap the planned test and jump straight to commercial operations in early 2018.
Rocket Lab and CEO, Peter Beck, described the achievement as a significant step towards opening commercial access to space, one that would soon see Rocket Lab launch frequent and low-cost commercial missions tailored to their customers’ unique orbital requirements.
“Reaching orbit on a second test flight is significant on its own, but successfully deploying customer payloads so early in a new rocket program is almost unprecedented. Rocket Lab was founded on the principle of opening access to space to better understand our planet and improve life on it,” he said.
“Today we took a significant step towards that.”
Rocket Lab currently has five Electron vehicles in production, and it also announced plans to launch up to 120 missions per year once it reaches full production.
Also, it’s not like there is a shortage of interest in the company’s services. On the contrary; once it enters commercial phase, the Electron will fly already-signed customers including NASA, Spire, Planet, Moon Express and spacelift, to name just a few.
In the next ten years or so, it is estimated that more than 3,000 small satellites will travel to space, generating in the excess of $2 billion in launch revenue.
Rocket Lab is now perfectly positioned to tap into this lucrative niche market, providing bookable and affordable service for carrying small payloads to orbit.