Rocket Lab’s Electron booster stands on the launchpad during testing
Following a successful January test launch that saw its Electron booster reach orbit for the first time, Rocket Lab is now getting down to business. The US-based private space firm and its wholly owned New Zealand-based subsidiary have announced plans to go ahead with its first fully commercial mission, with the launch window to open later this month.
Rocket Lab’s Electron booster in the hangar
Rocket Lab’s rise has been rather swift, albeit a little rocky. It announced itself in 2015 with plans to drive down launch costs using a light and more mechanically simple rocket design, based on a Rutherford engine. This is an electric turbopump engine that burns a mix of liquid oxygen and a highly refined type of kerosene called RP-1.
This Electron booster did make it to space on its maiden flight in May 2017, but failed to reach orbit due to a ground equipment error. Following a series of aborts, the Electron reached orbit in January, taking a set of mini satellites and a geodesic sphere along for the ride.
While those payloads technically were for commercial customers, the launch was still part of the company’s test program. In fact, the mission was actually named “Still Testing.” Now it is moving ahead with fully commercial flights, with the equally aptly named “It’s Business Time” mission to take place some time within a 14-day launch window that opens on Friday April 20.
The missions will see an Electron rocket fire payloads for Spire Global and GeoOptics Inc. into orbit from the company’s own launch facility in New Zealand, with a four-hour launch window to be open daily from 12:30 pm local time.
The primary components for the nine Rutherford engines in the Electron booster can be 3D printed. This, along with what Rocket Lab’s calls a vertically integrated vehicle manufacturing process, makes for some pretty fast production times. So much so, that Rocket Lab reckons it could produce an Electron vehicle every single week at its production facility in Huntington Beach, California. The company plans to 3D print 100 Rutherford engines this year to meet its goal of monthly launches by the end of 2018.
“It’s Business Time represents the shift to responsive space,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck. “We always set out to create a vehicle and launch site that could offer the world’s most frequent launch capability and we’re achieving that in record time.”
Update (April 6, 2018): This article originally stated that Rocket Lab was a New Zealand-based company. The company is actually based in the US, with a wholly owned New Zealand-based subsidiary. The article has now been updated to reflect this. We apologise for any confusion and thank the commenters who pointed it out.