Published: Mon, January 22, 2018
Science | By Eileen Rhodes

US Rocket Lab reaches orbit for first time

US Rocket Lab reaches orbit for first time

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket took off from a picturesque commercial launch base in New Zealand on Saturday, U.S. time, on a test flight that delivered three CubeSats into orbit on the company's first successful satellite deployment.

New Zealand officially joined the ranks of commercial space-faring nations on Sunday and made history at the same time. Rocket Lab had launched an Electron last May, which failed to reach orbit.

"We'll become the second company in the world to have put something in orbit, and New Zealand the 11th nation", said company founder Peter Beck. The Atea-1 launch led to the company being awarded an Operationally Responsive Space Office (ORS) contract with the US federal government.

Although New Zealand-founded, Rocket Lab lists itself as an American company with headquarters at a wholly-owned New Zealand subsidiary.

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A range of government agencies, led by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), are supporting Rocket Lab's test launch activities to ensure they are safe and secure. This opened the door to formally initiating a feasibility study into low-priced launcher systems for nanosatellites. That is why the company developed its dedicated launch facility on the Mahia Peninsula.

The payload for the launch, according to SpaceNews, included two cubesats for the data company Spire and one for Planet Labs.

"The engines ignited but a couple engines didn't like the temperature of the liquid oxygen, so it automatically shut down", Beck said. But there has been a great demand for small rockets that can carry tiny satellites. Compared to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, a neck-straining 180-feet tall, the Electron is very small.

It's a big development for the industry, meaning that smaller companies will now be able to have their satellites launched into orbit for a relative fraction of what it cost in the past.

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