An Electron rocket built by the commercial startup Rocket Lab was successfully launched on its second test flight from New Zealand, carrying the first payloads of the company's customers in orbit.
The electron took off today from the company's private launch facility on the Māhia peninsula in New Zealand at 2:43 p.m. local time, which is 8:43 p.m. EST on January 19 (0143 GMT). The launch was delayed 24 hours after two ships invaded the exclusion zone offshore of the launch.
Rocket Lab had initially scheduled its second electron test flight for December, but several problems (mainly meteorological) prevented the company from moving forward with the launch. Company representatives said before the opening of the first launch window that they were anticipating delays, and wanted to wait until the conditions were perfect for the test. One attempt
This is Rocket Lab's second electron test flight, and marks an important step towards the company's goal to enter commercial operations in 2018. The electron can carry up to approximately 500 lbs. (225 kilograms) payload, much less than most large rockets, which can carry thousands to tens of thousands of pounds. Electron's smaller size is intended to increase affordability and launch flexibility for customers with smaller payloads.
The first test launch of the electron company took place on May 25. That day, the third stage of the rocket did not reach its desired altitude, a problem that Rocket Lab later said was due to a ground equipment problem.
An emerging market
One of the satellites on board Electron Rocket is a Dove satellite that observes Earth , the size of a bread, of Planet Planet (formerly Planet Labs). The other two are observing satellites of the Earth Lemur of the company Spire. In general, satellites are getting smaller and cheaper to build, which is why a handful of companies, including Rocket Lab, try to offer a more economical and flexible way to put those small charges in orbit.
Larger rockets, such as those flying companies such as SpaceX and United Launch Alliance can carry thousands or tens of thousands of pounds of cargo and, therefore, small loads generally have to be "loaded" with larger payloads to get to space. Massive rockets are more complicated to launch, so customers are limited in response time for a takeoff. (Delays may delay releases for months or years). They are also more expensive to build, which limits the number of launches made by these companies, which in turn limits the number of opportunities that customers have to space.
Rocket Lab is not just trying to open a small launch market. Virgin Orbit (part of the Virgin group) is working on its launch system for small LauncherOne satellites, which can carry payloads of up to approximately 660 lbs. (300 kg). That system is based on an airplane to take the rocket to an altitude of approximately 35,000 feet (10,700 meters) before launching into space. Virgin Orbit has said it plans to launch its first test launches in 2018. Vector Space Systems is working on a rocket that would carry even smaller payloads, up to 145 lbs. (66 kg), ideally for an even lower cost. Vector is also working on its first test launches at orbital altitudes.
These companies will also compete as to how quickly they can organize a launch for their customers, how often they can launch payloads and the variety of orbits they can achieve.