NZ firm launches first commercial rocket

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket soars above its Mahia Peninsula launchpad

ROCKET LABRocket Lab's Electron rocket soars above its Mahia Peninsula launchpad

"The Electron rocket, nicknamed 'it's Business Time", is set to launch from Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1 on the on the Māhia Peninsula on New Zealand's North Island this weekend. Nine minutes after the launch, the two-stage rocket got separated and the upper stage known as Curie managed to take the satellites into their final orbit 500 kilometers above the surface of Earth.

Developed in-house, Electron is two-stage rocket, with an additional optional kick-stage that can place multiple payloads into different orbits. It won a $25 million grant from the New Zealand government, and a year ago raised $75 million from Silicon Valley investors, valuing the company at $1 billion.As well as its unique rocket, which saves cost with ultra-light composite materials and a battery-powered turbopump, Rocket Lab is the only private firm with its own launch site, on New Zealand's Mahia peninsula.

What other companies are building small rockets to launch smaller satellites? The rocket will be able to launch smallsats and cubesats, and has a "Plug-In Payload" module which decouples payload integration from the main assembly.

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket comes at a price tag that's only a fraction of the $50 million or more it costs to launch a larger rocket.

Electron is created to carry smaller payloads around 150 to 225 kg (330 to 495 lb), and the company intends to start ramping up its launches in 2019.

First up was the IRVINE01 CubeSat, built by students in Southern California, followed by two ship-tracking and weather-data-collection crafts for Spire Global, two pathfinder-data relay satellites from Fleet Space Technologies, and the CICERO 10 commercial weather satellite built by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems for GeoOptics.

Rocket Lab succeeded this weekend in moving from a company testing its rocket to one that has truly begun commercial operations.

The Mahia launch is being commanded from Rocket Lab's new rocket factory in Mount Wellington, Auckland.

Rocket Lab's third flight is planned for next month, and its fourth is slated for January 2019. "With the Electron launch vehicle, rapid and reliable access to space is now a reality for small satellites", Beck said in a statement. "Can they get to market?"

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