Rocket Lab launched its first Electron rocket into space, equipped with a 3D printed Rutherford engine.
With the launch Rocketlab is now among the leaders in private rocket launch company in line with SpaceX.
Rocket Lab already has numerous customers signed on, including NASA, Spire, Planet, Moon Express and Spaceflight.
“It has been an incredible day and I’m immensely proud of our talented team,” said Peter Beck, CEO and founder of Rocket Lab. “We’re one of a few companies to ever develop a rocket from scratch and we did it in under four years. We’ve worked tirelessly to get to this point. We’ve developed everything in house, built the world’s first private orbital launch range, and we’ve done it with a small team”
A lot of firsts were achieved with the launch. Not only was It’s a Test the first rocket launched into space by New Zealand, it was also the first battery-powered rocket in the world, fueled by the almost entirely 3D printed Rutherford engine. In addition, the rocket lifted off from Rocket Lab’s dedicated launch facility on the Mahia Peninsula, making it the first orbital-class rocket to launch from a commercial facility.
Rocket Lab is among the leaders in this race, a binational firm with facilities in California and its launch center in New Zealand. The Electron is expected to cost $5 million and carry 225 kilograms of cargo into orbit. For comparison, a brand new SpaceX Falcon 9 lists at $60 million per launch and can carry some 22,800 kilograms into low-earth orbit. But Rocket Labs hopes to launch as many as 50 times a year, a major increase in cadence from the pace set by launch companies today.
Electron’s payload fairing is designed to decouple payload integration from the main assembly. Rocket Lab’s standard process is to integrate payloads at the launch site in a traditional manner.
However, with the Rocket Lab “Plug-In Payload” module, the customer can choose to manage this process using their own preferred facilities and personnel. Environmentally controlled or sealed payload modules are transported back to Rocket Lab where integration with the Electron vehicle can occur in a matter of hours.
Rocket Lab’s novel approach eliminates the risk of cascading delays, and enables customers to have standby payloads ready to go.
Electron is designed for a nominal payload of 150 kg to a 500 km sun-synchronous orbit.
Rocket Lab is able to tailor the vehicle to specific mission requirements including a range of sun-synchronous altitudes in circular or elliptical orbits at inclinations between 39 and 98 degrees.
When Rocket Lab goes into full business mode, it expects to launch more than 50 times a year, and is regulated to launch up to 120 times per year.
Three test flights are scheduled for this year, with today’s being the first. The second flight will aim towards getting into orbit, and will try to maximize the rocket’s payload. The Electron will be carrying small satellites for its customers for a variety of purposes.