California-based launch startup Rocket Lab flew its Electron vehicle to low-Earth orbit on Sunday, delivering three small satellites to space. The company’s vision is to open up a market for low-cost access to orbit, especially for CubeSat deployment. And they seem to be on the way with their first successful mission to that destination.

 

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket lifted off from the company’s picturesque launch site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 1:34 UTC (New Zealand time) or 8:34 PM Eastern time if you’re used to Cape Canaveral’s time zone.

“Rocket Lab’s mission is to remove the barriers to commercial space by providing frequent launch opportunities to low Earth orbit,” says the company on its website. “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”

Rocket Lab missed their original 10-day launch window in December to launch the mission the company referred to as “Still Testing,” due to weather and technical issues. During the current launch window that opened this month, the company was scrubbed for a couple of days before launching on Sunday. This time, along with the expected reasons for a delay, a wayward boat got in the way of launching.​

The first Electron rocket flight test, titled “It’s a Test,” was held in May of last year and while the launch was seemingly nominal, it did not reach orbit. Following the first test, Rocket Lab engineers spent months going over the data at their facilities in California and New Zealand.

On the second test mission, Rocket Lab successfully deployed three CubeSats to orbit, the kind of microsatellite they hope to deliver more frequently for customers that depend on rarely-occurring rideshares from larger launch providers like SpaceX, ULA, and Ariane Space.

For “Still Testing,” Rocket Lab lofted an Earth-imaging Dove satellite for imaging firm Planet and twin Lemur-2 satellites for monitoring firm Spire. According to its website, Rocket Lab will charge around $4.9 million for a lift on its Electron rocket.

​The Electron rocket (Rocket Lab)

The Electron rocket is painted black and stands just over 55 feet tall with a diameter of almost 4 feet. Fully fueled, the rocket weighs over 23,000 pounds. The rocket’s booster stage is powered by 9 Rutherford electric engines that burn RP-1 kerosene and liquid oxygen. At liftoff, the Electron generates over 34,500 pounds of thrust power.

Rocket Lab’s successful launch from New Zealand on Sunday was ⅔ of their planned flight tests and will continue to fly out of their remote pad below the equator. They do however foresee future missions flying from the United States from available pads at Wallops in Virginia and Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Image Credit: Rocket Lab


Robin Seemangal is a Space Reporter, with a focus on NASA and advocacy for space exploration for the New York Observer. He’s also written for Popular Science and Wired Magazine. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, where he currently resides. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.