Los Angeles, CA, United States
Los Angeles, CA, United States

Rocket Lab Ltd. is a New Zealand firm that designs and fabricates sounding rockets, small satellite launch systems, and propulsion systems. Wikipedia.

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News Article | May 22, 2017
Site: www.gizmag.com

Is New Zealand poised to become the world's next center for space commerce? If events of the next week or so pan out, the answer is yes. Between now and June 1, aerospace company Rocket Lab plans to conduct the inaugural launch of its Electron rocket from its Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand's North Island. If successful, it will mark the first launch of a craft into space from the Southern Hemisphere nation. Founded in 2006, US-based Rocket Lab hopes to turn the sleepy little Mahia Peninsula on the North Island into a major hub of space commerce, with 120 liftoffs per year at a rate of one every 72 hours. Considering the fact that the United States only manages about 25 per year, that's a very ambitious schedule even Elon Musk might see as hectic. The key to this is the company's Electron launch system, which is designed to cut into the light payload end of the space market. The grapefruit-sized satellites of 1958 have blown up to monsters the size of double-decker buses over the past half century, but the arrival of nanosat technology means that heavier payloads are no longer the only game in town. Rocket Lab's plan is to cater to customers who want to loft smaller satellites of less than 150 kg (330 lb) to reach a sun-synchronous orbit at a cost of about US$4.9 million. That is, an orbit about 500 km (310 mi) high, which is configured so the Earth below is always in sunlight. To achieve this rate and such a (relatively) low price, Rocket Lab's Electron goes against the trend toward reusable rockets, instead using a cheap booster made out of composites and 3D-printed rocket components, and swapping turbo pumps for electric motors powered by lithium-ion batteries to feed propellants into its in-house designed Rutherford engines. According to the company, this "electric" rocket will generate 4,600 lbf (20,462 N) of thrust and a specific impulse of 327 seconds. The Electron itself is a two-stage rocket measuring 1 meter (3.2 ft) in diameter and 20 meters (65.6 ft) high and, with empty tanks, weighs about as much as a Mini Cooper. Due to the high winds on North Island, the Electron has a two-axis thrust vector control system. In addition, it has an advanced avionics system weighing 19 lb (8.6 kg), uses a plug-and-play system to prevent cascading delays caused by component failures, and allows customers to provide alternative payloads at short notice. Rocket Lab says that the Electron booster will be able to lift a payload into orbit using less fuel than a 737 flying from New York to Los Angeles. The payload-less maiden flight of the Electron, called "It's a Test," is scheduled for Tuesday, May 23, 2017, but this is at the mercy of weather conditions, which have already caused one delay during the 10-day launch window. "Safety is Rocket Lab's number one priority," says Peter Beck, CEO and founder of Rocket Lab. "Unfortunately, [Sunday's] high winds in Mahia prevented our team from rolling the rocket out to the launch pad in preparations for launch. We are keeping a close eye on the weather and will roll out the rocket [on Monday] as the weather has improved, with the goal of a launch attempt [Tuesday]." Rocket Lab claims to have reached space in a suborbital flight of its Ātea-1 sounding rocket in 2009, but this remains unverified because it carried no instruments and was not tracked. The video below shows the Electron arriving at the launch complex. Update (May 23, 2017): This story originally stated that Rocket Lab's would "the first launch of a craft into space from the Southern Hemisphere". This was incorrect as there have been a number of launches from Woomera in South Australia. The text has been modified for this reason and we apologize for the error.


News Article | May 19, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Seattle-based Spaceflight says it’s struck a deal to buy the full capacity of a single Electron rocket launch from L.A.-based Rocket Lab, so it can send other ventures’ small satellites into orbit at cut-rate prices. The dedicated-rideshare mission follows the model that Spaceflight set with SpaceX for a Falcon 9 launch, now expected to go up next year. Rocket Lab has been developing its carbon-composite Electron rocket for months, with an eye toward offering orbital launches for $5 million. The Electron’s first test launch is scheduled next week in New Zealand. Spaceflight and Rocket Lab haven’t yet set a date for… Read More


News Article | May 22, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

New Zealand is joining the world’s space race through its first attempt to fire a rocket into space, with the historic launch facing its weather-related delay. American-New Zealand aerospace company Rocket Lab seeks to blast off its Electron rocket from the quiet Mahia Peninsula during a 10-day window that supposedly begins Monday, May 22. High winds on Sunday, May 21, however, prevented the planned rollout and launch preparations and delayed them until Tuesday, May 23, as Rocket Lab tweeted. The launch, which was four years in the making, was expected to face postponements given the need for optimal conditions. Mahia, a country settlement with less than 800 inhabitants, suddenly saw itself in the center of the nation’s space aspirations. “If we get to orbit on the first flight, we will have done something most countries have never achieved,” said Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck, adding the vehicle will be ready by the next 1.5 weeks. It’s not a simple case of launch, however, as the ideal conditions involve radar and weather balloons for measuring wind velocities as well as air pressures both at ground and high levels. New Zealand’s weather, too, is known for being complicated, making it difficult to pinpoint an exact launch date. The company has just moved from ground testing to a flight test program, said Beck. A “dress rehearsal” was performed last Tuesday, May 16, where the launch was done right up to ignition phase, including closing airspace and fueling the rocket. “There’s over 20,000 sensors that we’re monitoring,” explained Beck. “And if any of those sensors turn red then we won’t fly.” It caters to pretty much the same market targeted by Vector Space, now in small-scale suborbital tests and with plans to enter the launch market in 2018, with a dedicated launch system removing the ride-sharing compulsories on the larger launch firms. The company, which lists its intended service with Electron as $4.9 million worth per flight, started its orbital launch ambitions some 11 years ago. Its foray into rocket flight took place three years after its founding, via the launch of the Atea-1 suborbital sounding rocket. This rocket stood 20 feet tall, weighed 132 pounds upon liftoff, and can carry a 4.5-pound payload as high as 74.5 miles. What happened with Atea-1? It flew for the first (and only) time in November 2009 from New Zealand, and liftoff came more than seven hours behind schedule due to fueling issues. Rocket Lab was quick to claim that it had reached the internationally set boundary to space, rendering the company the first in the Southern Hemisphere to reach space. The rocket, however, had no telemetry downlink, was untracked by ground-based assets, and was unrecovered, among many things. As a result, it proved impossible to verify the actual claim that the rocket reached the space, although launch was generally deemed a success. Rocket Lab proceeded to develop the Electron, which was earlier slated for a 2015 test launch. Mahia Peninsula was favored as launch site for various factors, such as its less interaction with standard aviation routes allowing for a greater flight rate. The rocket’s liftoff will herald the first time an orbital launch was attempted by a commercial firm from a 100 percent commercial launch site. Earlier this month, on the other hand, SpaceX appeared to be near the launch phase of its Falcon Heavy rocket, deemed the world’s most powerful today. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Spaceflight, the company reinventing the model for launching small satellites into space, today announced the purchase of a Rocket Lab Electron rocket to increase the frequency of its dedicated rideshare missions. The Electron is an ideal launch vehicle for dedicated and rideshare missions, especially those serving difficult-to-come-by launch destinations such as mid-inclination orbits for remote sensing satellites. In late 2015, Spaceflight began its dedicated rideshare launch service with the purchase of a SpaceX Falcon 9 and now expands the rocket partnership to Rocket Lab with the Electron. Dedicated rideshare for smallsats is a new launch alternative that blends cost-effective rideshare pricing (where several payloads share the same launch to a specific destination) with first-class service, typically associated with buying a private rocket. Spaceflight provides multiple launch options to ensure organizations can access space when they need to, at a much lower cost than buying their own launch vehicle. “There are numerous rideshare launches each year to Sun Synchronous Orbit, but getting to 45 to 60 degrees is hard to find, and can cost the equivalent of buying an entire rocket,” said Curt Blake, President of Spaceflight’s launch business. “We are thrilled to be working with Rocket Lab to enable our customers’ remote sensing missions that require high revisit time over North America, Europe, and the Middle East.” Peter Beck, Rocket Lab CEO added, “The Electron is an entirely carbon-composite vehicle that is designed to carry payloads of 225kg to an elliptical orbit and up to 150kg to a nominal 500km sun synchronous low earth orbit. We look forward to expanding this relationship and operational manifest with Spaceflight as we increase our market reach and remove the barriers to commercial space.” Spaceflight has launched more than 100 satellites to date from a variety of launch vehicles including PSLV, Dnepr, Antares, Cygnus, Soyuz and others. The frequency of satellite launches, combined with Spaceflight’s cross-section of customers and variety of mission-applications, is a strong indicator of the growing capabilities of small satellites and the need for more timely and cost-effective access to space. The companies have not yet announced a date for the Electron dedicated rideshare mission. Organizations interested in learning more about this and other launch options should contact sales@spaceflight.com. Spaceflight is revolutionizing the business of spaceflight by delivering a new model for accessing space. A comprehensive launch services and mission management provider, the company provides a straightforward and cost-effective suite of products and services including state-of-the-art satellite infrastructure and rideshare launch offerings that enable commercial and government entities to achieve their mission goals on time and on budget. A service offering of Spaceflight Industries in Seattle Washington, Spaceflight provides its services through a global network of partners, ground stations and launch vehicle providers. For more information, visit http://www.spaceflight.com. Rocket Lab’s mission is to remove the barriers to commercial space by providing frequent launch opportunities to low Earth orbit. Since its creation in 2006 by Peter Beck, Rocket Lab has delivered a range of complete rocket systems and technologies for fast and affordable payload deployment. In addition to New Zealand’s first orbital launch site located on the Māhia Peninsula, the company has operations in both Los Angeles and Auckland. Rocket Lab is a private company, with major investors including Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Data Collective, Promus Ventures, Lockheed Martin and K1W1.


News Article | May 21, 2017
Site: phys.org

That's if the plans of California-based company Rocket Lab work out. Founded by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company was last week given official approval to conduct three test launches from a remote peninsula in the South Pacific nation. Rocket Lab is planning the first launch of its Electron rocket sometime from Monday, depending on conditions. "So far, it's only superpowers that have gone into space," said Simon Bridges, New Zealand's economic development minister. "For us to do it, and be in the first couple of handfuls of countries in the world, is pretty impressive." Rocket Lab sees an emerging market in delivering lots of small devices, some not much bigger than a smartphone, into low Earth orbit. The satellites would be used for everything from monitoring crops to providing internet service. The company hopes to begin commercial launches later this year and eventually launch one rocket every week. It plans to keep costs low by using lightweight, disposable rockets with 3D-printed engines. It's a different plan than some other space companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX, which uses larger rockets to carry bigger payloads. The venture has left New Zealand officials excited and struggling to keep up. Politicians are rushing through new space laws and the government has set up a boutique space agency, which employs 10 people. Bridges said that if Rocket Lab is successful, it could change people's perception of New Zealand from a place full of farms and nice scenery to a technologically savvy nation on the rise. He said the space industry could soon bring in hundreds of millions of dollars each year and rival industries like wine and kiwifruit. He envisions spinoff companies and many high-paying jobs, much of it built on the back of Rocket Lab. The company's Electron rocket is unusual in many respects. It carries only a small payload of about 150 kilograms (331 pounds). It's made from carbon fiber and uses an electric engine. Rocket Lab says each launch will cost just $5 million, a tiny fraction of a typical rocket launch. Unlike SpaceX, which aims to build a rocket that's fully reusable, Rocket Lab's rockets are disposable. Beck said they are light and use relatively little fuel. Customers who have signed up so far include NASA and Moon Express. "Space has always held a fascination for me," said Beck. "Not enough people go out on nice starry night and look up." Both Beck and Bridges are careful to temper expectations for the test launch, which is scheduled to take place within a 10-day window. They say there could be delays and things could go wrong. Rocket Lab, which is privately held, has received about $150 million in venture capital funding, including an undisclosed amount from Bessemer Venture Partners in Silicon Valley. Bessemer partner David Cowan said that for years, the trend was for both rockets and satellites to get bigger and bigger, until many satellites were the size of a bus or even a house. Needs have changed rapidly over the last few years as technology has allowed tiny, cheap satellites to be put into lower orbits, he said. Cowan, who is flying to New Zealand to witness the launch, said he was impressed with how local officials and everyday folks seem to be embracing the idea. On a recent visit to a sheep farm, he said a farmer who had no idea about his involvement in the project was eager to tell him how New Zealand would be launching a rocket. Eric Stallmer, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Commercial Spaceflight Federation, said a couple of other companies are also trying to fill the niche that Rocket Lab is aiming for but there is plenty of potential for growth. "There was a big hole in the market," Stallmer said. "We are pretty excited about what Rocket Lab is doing." He said the U.S. is launching fewer than two-dozen commercial rockets a year and remains a world leader. Still, he thinks Rocket Lab's goal of 50 or more launches a year sounds ambitious, and would take several years to achieve. Beck said the benefits of its launch site at Mahia Peninsula on the North Island include its location on a sliver of land that's almost surrounded by water and clear skies that are free from much air traffic. Bevan Cutler, who moved to the area a couple of months ago and bought the Mahia Beach Store, said it's a beautiful place with lots of holiday homes. People come for the surfing, fishing and diving. Some folk are upset the launches could result in the temporary closure of roads and fishing grounds, he said. Others are excited about the prospect of new customers and business opportunities. Most, he said, are waiting to see what happens with the first test launch. "It could have fairly large implications moving forward," Cutler said. "We just don't know yet." Explore further: SpaceX set to launch its first recycled rocket


News Article | May 21, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

In this May 19, 2017 photo supplied by Rocket Lab, engineers work with the Electron rocket at the launch site on the Mahia Peninsula in the North Island of New Zealand. New Zealand has never had a space program but could soon be launching commercial rockets more often than the United States. That’s if the plans of California-based company Rocket Lab work out. Founded by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company was last week given approval by the Federal Aviation Authority to conduct three test launches from a remote peninsula and the first could come as early as Monday. (Rocket Lab via AP) WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand has never had a space program but could soon be launching commercial rockets more often than the United States. That's if the plans of California-based company Rocket Lab work out. Founded by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company was last week given official approval to conduct three test launches from a remote peninsula in the South Pacific nation. Rocket Lab is planning the first launch of its Electron rocket sometime from Monday, depending on conditions. "So far, it's only superpowers that have gone into space," said Simon Bridges, New Zealand's economic development minister. "For us to do it, and be in the first couple of handfuls of countries in the world, is pretty impressive." Rocket Lab sees an emerging market in delivering lots of small devices, some not much bigger than a smartphone, into low Earth orbit. The satellites would be used for everything from monitoring crops to providing internet service. The company hopes to begin commercial launches later this year and eventually launch one rocket every week. It plans to keep costs low by using lightweight, disposable rockets with 3D-printed engines. It's a different plan than some other space companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX, which uses larger rockets to carry bigger payloads. The venture has left New Zealand officials excited and struggling to keep up. Politicians are rushing through new space laws and the government has set up a boutique space agency, which employs 10 people. Bridges said that if Rocket Lab is successful, it could change people's perception of New Zealand from a place full of farms and nice scenery to a technologically savvy nation on the rise. He said the space industry could soon bring in hundreds of millions of dollars each year and rival industries like wine and kiwifruit. He envisions spinoff companies and many high-paying jobs, much of it built on the back of Rocket Lab. The company's Electron rocket is unusual in many respects. It carries only a small payload of about 150 kilograms (331 pounds). It's made from carbon fiber and uses an electric engine. Rocket Lab says each launch will cost just $5 million, a tiny fraction of a typical rocket launch. Unlike SpaceX, which aims to build a rocket that's fully reusable, Rocket Lab's rockets are disposable. Beck said they are light and use relatively little fuel. Customers who have signed up so far include NASA and Moon Express. "Space has always held a fascination for me," said Beck. "Not enough people go out on nice starry night and look up." Both Beck and Bridges are careful to temper expectations for the test launch, which is scheduled to take place within a 10-day window. They say there could be delays and things could go wrong. Rocket Lab, which is privately held, has received about $150 million in venture capital funding, including an undisclosed amount from Bessemer Venture Partners in Silicon Valley. Bessemer partner David Cowan said that for years, the trend was for both rockets and satellites to get bigger and bigger, until many satellites were the size of a bus or even a house. Needs have changed rapidly over the last few years as technology has allowed tiny, cheap satellites to be put into lower orbits, he said. Cowan, who is flying to New Zealand to witness the launch, said he was impressed with how local officials and everyday folks seem to be embracing the idea. On a recent visit to a sheep farm, he said a farmer who had no idea about his involvement in the project was eager to tell him how New Zealand would be launching a rocket. Eric Stallmer, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Commercial Spaceflight Federation, said a couple of other companies are also trying to fill the niche that Rocket Lab is aiming for but there is plenty of potential for growth. "There was a big hole in the market," Stallmer said. "We are pretty excited about what Rocket Lab is doing." He said the U.S. is launching fewer than two-dozen commercial rockets a year and remains a world leader. Still, he thinks Rocket Lab's goal of 50 or more launches a year sounds ambitious, and would take several years to achieve. Beck said the benefits of its launch site at Mahia Peninsula on the North Island include its location on a sliver of land that's almost surrounded by water and clear skies that are free from much air traffic.


News Article | February 22, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

For more than a decade, CubeSats, or small satellites, have paved the way to low-Earth orbit for commercial companies, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations. For more than a decade, CubeSats, or small satellites, have paved the way to low-Earth orbit for commercial companies, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations. These small satellites offer opportunities to conduct scientific investigations and technology demonstrations in space in such a way that is cost-effective, timely and relatively easy to accomplish. The cube-shaped satellites measure about four inches on each side, have a volume of about one quart and weigh less than three pounds per unit (U). CubeSats can also be combined and built to standard dimensions of 1U, 2U, 3U, 6U, etc. for configurations about the size of a loaf of bread, large shoebox, microwave, and more. These small sats are used by scientists and researchers from all over the world as a way to take bold steps when it comes to space science and exploration. Their small size makes it possible to rapidly build and test, making CubeSats an ideal and affordable way to explore new technologies and ideas. CubeSat technology is used by many organizations outside of NASA to explore low-Earth orbit and the effects of microgravity. Together with NASA, companies like Orbital ATK, SpaceX, and NanoRacks give commercial companies the opportunity to fly their CubeSats as auxiliary payloads on cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station. In addition, Rocket Lab and Virgin Galactic will soon provide dedicated CubeSat launches from the new Venture Class Launch Services. CubeSats may be deployed directly from the rocket, from a spacecraft, or from the station itself depending on the mission. Planet Labs have developed a series of CubeSats to be launched across several expeditions, many of which have been deployed from the International Space Station via the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer. These Earth-imaging satellites will provide imagery to a variety of users as they focus on highly populated and agricultural areas to study urbanization and deforestation. The images will be used to improve natural disaster relief and crop yields in developing nations. NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative provides opportunities for small satellite payloads built by universities, high schools and non-profit organizations to fly on upcoming launches. Through innovative technology partnerships, NASA provides these CubeSat developers a low-cost pathway to conduct scientific investigations and technology demonstrations in space thus enabling students, teachers and faculty to obtain hands-on flight hardware development experience. Each proposed investigation must demonstrate a benefit to NASA by addressing aspects of science, exploration, technology development, education or operations relevant to NASA's strategic goals. This initiative provides NASA a mechanism for low-cost technology development and scientific research to help bridge strategic knowledge gaps and accelerate flight-qualified technology. Since its inception CSLI has selected 152 CubeSat missions from 68 universities and in 2015, NASA launched first CubeSat designed and built by elementary students. The recent eighth round of CubeSat selections will include 34 small satellites from 19 states and the District of Columbia to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard missions planned to launch in 2018, 2019 and 2020 CubeSat missions benefit Earth in varying ways. From Earth imaging satellites that help meteorologists to predict storm strengths and direction, to satellites that focus on technology demonstrations to help define what materials and processes yield the most useful resources and function best in a microgravity environment, the variety of science enabled by CubeSats results in diverse benefits and opportunities for discovery. "You never know what they're going to discover or find," said Susan Mayo, National Lab and Education Specialist for the International Space Station Program Science Office. "What better systems will emerge for Earth imaging? Are we going to develop a better system for doing something? You never know what long-term impact can come out of it. That's what this is all about - how is it going to benefit life on Earth in the end?" CubeSats are bringing dreams of spaceflight, discovery and science closer to home than ever. For more information about science and research aboard the station, visit ISS Research and Technology.


News Article | January 14, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Florida-based company Moon Express, which hopes to mine the moon someday, has received the full funding it needs to make its first lunar trip. Moon Express is one of the teams that is vying for the $30 million race to the moon, the Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP). The X Prize offers $20 million to the first privately funded team that would land a spacecraft on the lunar surface, move the vehicle at least 1,640 feet on the moon and send high-resolution images back to Earth. The second team that manages to do this gets $5 million. Moon Express is one of the frontrunners of the GLXP as it has already managed to secure permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to land on the surface of the moon becoming the first private company in the world to get permission to travel beyond our planet's orbit after months of negotiations with government officials. "Up until now all commercial companies have been limited to operations in Earth's orbit, and only governments have sent missions to other worlds," the company said in a statement. "Moon Express has become the first private company approved to literally go out of this world as a pioneer of commercial space missions beyond Earth orbit." Moon Express has also struck a deal with rocket manufacturer Rocket Lab to launch its vehicle into orbit. Recent developments give high hopes that the company would be one of the first of the XPrize competitors to get to the lunar surface as it now has all the resources needed to send a lander to the moon. Team members have revealed that Moon Express has secured $20 million in "Series B" funding, which now brings the amount of funds raised from private investors to more than $45 million. The additional funding came from multiple venture capital funds, the software company Autodesk and other private resources. X Prize requires that 90 percent of the competitors' funding be from private sources. The funding does not guarantee a successful flight to the moon though. Rocket Lab's Electron rocket has not flown yet and while the aeronautics startup said that it will start conducting flight tests earlier this year, no official launch date has yet been set. It is neither clear if Electron will be ready to bring Moon Express' MX-1E lander to space before the deadline set by the X Prize which will be on Dec. 31 this year. Moon Express is not just setting its eyes on the X Prize. It also plans to send more missions to the moon, which will include one that will collect lunar samples that will be brought back to Earth. The team plans to gather Helium-3 from the moon, which can be used in future nuclear fusion reactors. "Our goal is to expand Earth's social and economic sphere to the moon, our largely unexplored eighth continent, and enable a new era of low-cost lunar exploration and development for students, scientists, space agencies and commercial interests," said Moon Express CEO Bob Richards. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


Grant
Agency: Department of Defense | Branch: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency | Program: SBIR | Phase: Phase I | Award Amount: 99.96K | Year: 2015

Rocket Lab USA, Inc. proposes to develop and demonstrate how the use of the Electron launch vehicle either as an upper stage in support of the XS-1 program or dedicated small launch vehicle could employ the use of Automated Flight Termination (AFTS) technologies to reduce the cost of access to space without adversely impacting public safety. Providing the launch opportunity to obtain flight telemetry from Rocket Lab's initial test flight will enable the development of a ruggedized AFTS for future DARPA, NASA and commercial launch campaigns.


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

After three years of developing a brand-new rocket, aerospace startup Rocket Lab has finally transported a finished vehicle to the New Zealand launchpad where it will take its first flight. The rocket, called the Electron, has been tested on the ground over the last year but has never been flown to space before. Over the next couple of months, Rocket Lab will conduct a series of test launches of the vehicle to verify that it’s ready to carry payloads into orbit for commercial customers. Compared to other major commercial rockets like the Falcon 9 or the Atlas V, the Electron is pretty small — only 55 feet tall and and around 4 feet in diameter. That’s because the vehicle is specifically designed to launch small satellites. The vehicle can carry payloads ranging from 330 to 500 pounds into an orbit more than 300 miles up. That’s a relatively light lift contrasted with the Falcon 9, which can carry more than 50,000 pounds into lower Earth orbit. The Electron is specifically designed to launch small satellites But Rocket Lab isn’t interested in competing with major players like SpaceX or the United Launch Alliance. The company wants to capitalize solely on what is being hailed as the small satellite revolution — a trend of making space probes as tiny as possible. Typically, aerospace manufacturers will spend years and millions of dollars developing a satellite that’s roughly the size of a bus. And then an entire rocket is needed just to get one thousand-pound satellite into space. But technology has advanced in recent years, and companies have come up with ways to miniaturize their satellites, making these space probes as small as a shoebox. Small satellites usually take less time and money to make, and since they’re so compact, multiple probes can be launched to space on a single rocket. Various aerospace companies have started focusing on making and operating small satellites, and because of the enthusiasm surrounding these tiny spacecraft, Rocket Lab has received a huge influx of launch requests. “The customer uptake for the product has just been phenomenal,” Peter Beck, the founder of Rocket Lab, tells The Verge. “I think it’s a testament to the industry that 2017 for us is totally fully booked and has been for a year or more. And 2018, there’s only a few spots left. We haven’t even flown the vehicle yet on one test flight, and the manifest is overflowing.” Perhaps one of the things that makes Rocket Lab’s Electron so attractive to customers is the estimated price tag. The company claims it will only charge around $4.9 million for each launch. That’s a cheap option compared to one flight of the Falcon 9, for instance, which starts at $62 million. The Electron also sports some unique design features. The vehicle’s nine main engines, known as Rutherford engines, are manufactured mostly through 3D printing; they’re also partially electric. Batteries are used to power the turbopumps — key hardware that funnels the vehicle’s propellant into the engines. Typically, turbopumps are powered by a gas generator, where you essentially have another engine that spins the pumps’ turbine blades, but Beck says the batteries reduce the complexity of the engine’s machinery. “The reason why we arrived at the electric turbopump is we sat down and analyzed where the cost and complexity is in the engine, and it’s always in the turbine machinery,” says Beck. “The electric turbopump cycle allows us to take that really complicated thermodynamic problem and just turn it into software.” Getting the rocket and its engines ready for spaceflight has certainly taken time, but Rocket Lab has also had another daunting task to accomplish before the Electron can fly: creating an entirely new launchpad in New Zealand. It’s the country’s first launch site and the first private orbital launch range ever. And making the site functional has required more than just building the pad. Rocket Lab had to build tracking stations on remote islands in the Pacific, to trace the rocket’s path when it launches. The site also had to receive the necessary regulatory approvals to launch rockets. “It’s really been a massive infrastructure build, as well as a launch vehicle build.” “It’s really been a massive infrastructure build, as well as a launch vehicle build,” says Beck. “We joke around here that we wish that we just had to build a rocket like everyone else, because that would be easy. We had to build all the infrastructure that, normally, you would just turn up to a launch range and use.” All launches out of the US take place at launch ranges run by government organizations. With the New Zealand pad, Rocket Lab will be in control of the launch site, the tracking facilities, and the launch vehicle. The goal is to use all of these tools to launch one rocket per week, creating frequent access to space for the company’s customers. But first, Rocket Lab has to pull off its test flights of the Electron. The company plans to perform three test launches, the first of which is supposed to happen within the next few months. The inaugural rocket has been dubbed “It’s a Test,” and will carry scientific instruments in lieu of a payload to collect data about the flight. “We’re a very test heavy company; we do a lot of diligence in that area,” says Beck. If the three flights are successful, then Rocket Lab will get to work launching for its customers If those three flights are successful, then Rocket Lab will get to work fulfilling its contractual obligations to its customers. Those include small satellite operators Planet and Spire, as well as NASA. The space agency awarded Rocket Lab a $6.95 million contract in 2015 to launch a small NASA payload into lower Earth orbit. Additionally, Rocket Lab is slated to launch a small lunar lander for Moon Express, an aerospace company with long-term ambitions of mining the Moon someday. Moon Express is a competitor in the Google Lunar X Prize competition — an international contest to send the first private spacecraft to the Moon’s surface — and in order to win, participants must launch their landers before December 31st, 2017. So the success of Rocket Lab’s test flights is good news for Moon Express’ chances of winning the Google Lunar X Prize. "We are excited to see the Electron rocket arrive at the Mahia launch complex for its first test flight,” Bob Richards, CEO of Moon Express, tells The Verge. “The maiden launch of the Electron will be an exciting moment for Rocket Lab and the entire commercial space industry."

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