Published: Tue, November 13, 2018
Science | By

Rocket Lab Wants To Be The FedEx Of Space

Rocket Lab Wants To Be The FedEx Of Space

The launch marks the start of Rocket Lab's push towards putting a rocket into orbit each week. The rocket builder reached orbit for the first time in January with its final test launch but saw this commercial attempt delayed due to a "motor control" issue with the rocket.

Rocket Lab's founder Peter Beck said today it was a flawless flight, and the launch marks a new era in space technology.

On top of this, the company has a private launch complex stationed on the remote Māhia Peninsula in eastern New Zealand that is licensed to launch up to 120 times per year. The rocket's kick stage, named Curie, deployed six satellites for customers Spire Global, Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, Fleet Space Technologies, and the Irvine CubeSat Stem Program.

Rocket Lab has opened a second production facility in New Zealand (in addition to one in Southern California) this fall and recently announced a second launch site at Wallops Island, in Virginia.

Rocket Lab put seven spacecraft in orbit on Saturday with its first commercial launch, as the company grew its lead in the burgeoning small rocket industry. A burn lasting almost two minutes aimed to circularize the kick stage's orbit at an altitude of around 499km before release of the mission's six satellite passengers. The Electron's Curie upper stage also carried "NABEO, a drag sail technology demonstrator, designed and built by High Performance Space Structure Systems GmbH, to passively de-orbit inactive small satellites and reduce space junk", according to a Rocket Lab statement. The two-stage version has a height of 17m and a diameter of 1.2m, and is powered by Rutherford engines.

The Electron - which is about a quarter the size of SpaceX's 230ft (70m) tall Falcon 9 - released the payload about 45 minutes after the launch.

This image shows the rock on the launch pad in Mahia, New Zealand in June 2018.

JAXA successfully launched its ultra-small SS-520 in February 2018, making it one of the first to make headway in launching a tiny rocket. "With the Electron launch vehicle, rapid and reliable access to space is now a reality for small satellites", added Beck. But Rocket Lab has another launch scheduled for December, as well as 16 launches planned for 2019.

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