Small Satellite Rocket Booster Arrives at New Zealand's First Launch Site
Rocket Lab is one among dozens of companies around the world building rockets to handle an expected boom in demand for small satellite launches.
WASHINGTON — Launch startup Rocket Lab says it is ready to begin test flights of its Electron launch vehicle early next year, having concluded flight qualification and acceptance of the first stage booster.
Rocket Lab announced completion of these final milestones Dec. 12, saying in a press release that the company is waiting on international launch licensing before kicking off full vehicle testing. Spokesperson Catherine Moreau-Hammond told SpaceNews the company is imminently anticipating licenses from the U.S. and New Zealand — a requirement due to its status as a U.S. company launching out of New Zealand.
Electron, the company’s dedicated small satellite launch vehicle, is a two-stage rocket with a price tag of $4.9 million for 150 kilogram payloads to a 500 kilometer orbit. Rocket Lab created the Rutherford engines used in the first stage, along with all other primary components including vehicle structures, avionics and software systems in-house.
The first stage booster for Electron uses nine Rutherford engines linked together, and a single vacuum-optimized Rutherford engine powers the second stage.
Rocket Lab describes Electron as a vehicle designed for high-volume production. The company hopes to reach a launch cadence of around once a week after the first few years of operations.
Rocket Lab’s Mahia Peninsula launch site, designated Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, is the company’s location for the test launches. In the press release, CEO Peter Beck said Rocket Lab will continue testing Electron in the lead-up to commercial operations and is optimistic about starting the test flight program.
Rocket Lab is one among dozens of companies around the world building rockets to handle an expected boom in demand for small satellite launches.
A small satellite launcher built by Rocket Lab has reached its New Zealand launch site for a debut test run in a few months.
The rocket, called Electron, is one of at least 17 small satellite launchers in development worldwide, a study for the Satellite Industry Association by The Tauri Group shows.
Another study, presented at last year's International Astronautical Congress in Mexico, found at least 29 small boosters in development.
But competition isn't much of a concern Rocket Lab founder and chief technical officer Peter Beck, who started the company in 2006.
"We're turning customers away and we haven't even flown yet," Beck told Seeker.
"I'm not really too concerned about the other launch companies coming along. In my opinion there's plenty for everybody… The biggest thing that we worry about actually is 'Can we build enough?' rather than 'Are there enough customers?'"
After three test flights, Rocket Lab aims to begin working off a manifest that includes flights for NASA, Planet, Spire and Moon Express, the latter of which is looking for a launch before the end of the year to compete in the $30 million Google Lunar XPrize.
"Every customer is working to deadlines," Beck said.
The first Electon booster arrived at Rocket Lab's privately owned launch site on Wednesday after a nine-hour truck ride from the company's manufacturing facility in Auckland. Rocket Lab's headquarters is in Los Angeles.
The launch site — the first in New Zealand — is located on the tip of Mahia Peninsula, a remote location with little air and marine traffic. The isolation is key to Rocket Lab's goal of flying Electron once a week.
The two-stage, all-composite rocket is powered by 10 3D-printed Rutherford engines burning a mixture of liquid oxygen and kerosene. Using additive manufacturing (3D printing) techniques simplifies the manufacturing process and cuts costs, the company notes.
The Electron is capable of putting payloads weighing up to about 330 pounds into orbits some 311 miles above Earth. The rocket's base price is about $5 million.
It will be a several months before the first Electron blasts off for its trial run. The entire launch system, including tracking, range safety and communications, needs to be brought online before the rocket can fly.
Beck intends to work out any problems during three test flights then begin commercial launch services later this year.
"If we have troubles then obviously there will be some delays there," Beck said. "It's important we get this vehicle up and running well."
The Electron isn't the only small satellite launcher to debut this year. Japan's first flight of an experimental cubesat launcher called SS-520-4, failed last month. A reflight is in the works.
Virgin Galactic, a space flight company owned by Richard Branson's Virgin Group, plans to test its air-launched small satellite booster LauncherOne this year. The rocket is under construction in Long Beach, California. Virgin Galactic also is testing a six-passenger, two-pilot suborbital spaceship in Mojave, California.
WATCH VIDEO: What's the Best Kind of Rocket Fuel?
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.
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,” 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 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."
Quelle: THE VERGE
Rocket Lab first test rocket has arrived in the Mahia launch facility. Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck says, "Within the coming weeks the first test flight will be launched from Mahia."
Beck plans to make space more accessible. Another milestone has been reached as the first test rocket named Test 1 arrives Mahia.
Mr Beck says, "This is kind of 10 years of a lot of hard work with over 150 engineers and scientists. To get to this point, it is a great milestone for the team. There have been a number of world firsts for the programme, the engines, the launch site, it is such a proud moment for not only the company but for everyone in NZ."
Rocket Lab's partnership with the Māori land owners Tawapata Incorporations on Mahia Peninsula has enabled Rocket Lab to access space from the best place on planet earth. Mr Beck says, "I don't think they ever expected to have a rocket facility on their land- we are so privileged to be able to work with them and the first rocket to go from Māori land, it is just fantastic.
Rocket Lab have 3 test flight before commercial payloads will begin. The cost of payloads starts from over one hundred thousand dollars to over a million dollars.
Mr Beck says, "At the moment space is only available to a select few. America, as an entire country only went to orbit 18, 19 times last year so we are about making space accessible and when you do that some really really exciting thing can happen and can have benefits- not just for a select few but for humanity globally. It is really really exciting."
In 2009, Mr Beck launched Atea 1- the first rocket to reach space from the Southern Hemisphere. Now Rocket Lab's mission to go to space from Mahia is one step closer.
Quelle: MAORI TV
THE rocket that could propel New Zealand into the space race — and put Mahia at the centre of it — has been successfully delivered to its Mahia launch facility.
Auckland-based aerospace company Rocket Lab delivered its first Electron rocket to Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 at Onenui Station late on Wednesday night, marking the beginning of pre-flight checkouts. The rocket was trucked to the Mahia Peninsula from Rocket Lab’s Auckland facility.
“It’s an important milestone for our team and for the space industry, both in New Zealand and globally. In past, it has been countries that go to space, not companies,” said Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck. “Since we commenced this project three years ago, our team has accomplished an incredible amount. The vehicle has gone through rigorous qualification and acceptance testing, Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 has been completed and major tracking infrastructure has been installed in remote locations.”
Over the coming weeks, a series of tests and checks will be conducted at the site before the rocket, named ‘‘It’s a Test’’, is signed off to fly.
The launch will be the first orbital launch attempt from New Zealand and is the first of three planned test launches before Rocket Lab begins providing customers commercial satellite launches.
In advance of the first test, a series of attempt windows will be announced. Due to the nature of testing, Rocket Lab expects a possibility of “‘scrubbed” launches where the time of launch is delayed, possibly to another day. This could be a result of weather or small modifications to the vehicle.
Economic Development Minister Simon Bridges welcomed the arrival of the rocket on the Mahia Peninsula.
“This is an important milestone for Rocket Lab and a significant step in the development of a New Zealand space industry. We are taking a keen interest in the planned test and commercial launches, and a range of government agencies, led by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), are ensuring launch activities are safe and secure.
“We have the opportunity to leverage off the existence of Rocket Lab to build New Zealand’s capacity and expertise in a range of space-related activities and to support the strategic opportunities likely to flow. There are economic opportunities in the use of space as a whole, not just in a launch industry — space research, materials development and testing, space tourism, weather and atmospheric research.”
A New Zealand Space Agency has been set up under the auspices of MBIE in Wellington. MBIE science, innovation and international general manager Peter Crabtree told The Herald it was envisioned that the Wellington-based agency would act as a regulatory “front door” for New Zealand space activity, which would include more spin-off benefits for Mahia and the wider Gisborne region.
“We anticipate the establishment of Rocket Lab’s facility in Mahia will have many flow-on effects for the region. This could include, but is not limited to, increased employment opportunities within the space industry and the service industries that support it. We’ve already heard reports of businesses within the region benefiting from more customers. There is also potential for increased tourist activity following Rocket Lab’s testing phase.”
Privately owned Rocket Lab, a New Zealand- and Los Angeles-based startup poised to begin small satellite launch services this year, has closed a financing round of $US75 million ($NZ106m), company officials say.
Data Collective, a venture capital fund based in San Francisco, led the round, with additional investment from Promus Ventures, an undisclosed investor, and existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners, Khosla Ventures and K1W1, said Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck.
The money will be used to expand manufacturing facilities in California and New Zealand for Rocket Lab's small launch vehicle, known as Electron. The booster is designed to put satellites weighing about 150kg into orbits a few hundreds kilometres above Earth.
The liquid-fueled Rocket Labs booster features 3-D-printed engines and battery-operated electric motors. It is designed to be manufactured at a rate of one per week and sell for about $US5m per flight, Mr Beck said.
The first of three Electron test flights is expected within the next few weeks from a newly built commercial spaceport in New Zealand. Commercial flights are slated to follow in the second half of the year.
Filings with the Federal Communications Commission show "massive growth in the number of systems that have put their marker down to say 'We're interested'," said Carissa Bryce Christensen, chief executive of Bryce Space and Technology, a Washington D.C.-area consultancy.
If all the projects came to fruition, some 12,000 small satellites would be launched in the next 10 years.
"Of course, nowhere near that is going to happen," but the number is an indication of the market's potential, she said.
Rocket Lab is among about 30 companies and agencies worldwide developing small satellite launchers. The company said in a statement it has now received $US148m in funding and is valued in excess of $US1 billion.
Rocket Lab's customers include NASA, Planet and startups Spire and Moon Express.
Quelle: NZ City
Rocket Lab's world-first attempt to send a vehicle into orbit from a private launch facility is only one week away.
The American-New Zealand aerospace company will open a 10-day launch attempt window for their Electron rocket from next Monday from Launch Complex One on the Mahia Peninsula.
The first Electron rocket was delivered to the site in February and there were three planned test launches before commercial satellite launches would be offered later this year.
This first test launch, titled "It's a Test", is the culmination of four years of planning, innovation and discovery.
Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck said the test launch attempt would collect valuable data to inform future test and commercial launches.
"We are all incredibly excited to get to this point. Our talented team has been preparing for years for this opportunity and we want to do our best to get it right.
"Our number one priority is to gather enough data and experience to prepare for a commercial phase. Only then can we start delivering on our mission to make space more accessible."
Rocket Lab's mission is to remove the barriers to commercial space travel by providing frequent launch opportunities to low Earth orbit.
The timing of the launch was chosen to minimise the effects on local fishing operations, which share the waters around the Mahia Peninsula site.
Mr Beck said that during this first launch attempt it was possible they could "scrub" multiple attempts until they were ready and conditions were favourable.
Quelle: Hawkes Bay Today
Purchase reflects an increasing demand for mid-inclination orbits from small satellite industry
SEATTLE — 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
About Rocket Lab
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.
Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket is only 55 feet tall. That’s puny compared to SpaceX’s 230-foot Falcon 9, but size isn’t everything. The Electron could become a powerful system for putting small satellites into space for cheap—the company estimates each launch will cost $5 million compared to SpaceX’s (already very cheap) $60 million. And on Sunday, it may fly for the very first time.
If conditions are favorable, the Electron will blast off from its launch pad in Mahia, New Zealand, at 5pm eastern time on May 21. It’s not carrying a payload, but if all goes well, its second stage will make it into orbit, which is a pretty significant achievement for a space startup. Even Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle only goes into suborbital space.
However, Rocket Lab cautions that it's only going to attempt the launch if conditions are ideal. “During this first launch attempt it is possible we will scrub multiple attempts as we wait until we are ready and conditions are favorable,” Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said in a statement. A press statement also admits it’s possible the rocket won’t make it to orbit as planned. Explosions are always a riskwhen it comes to rocket science, especially if you’re new to the space race.
Fortunately, there’s a 10-day launch window, so the company will have plenty of time to wait for the perfect conditions. There’s no livestream of the launch, but Rocket Lab says it will post a video if the launch is successful.
The Electron isn’t currently reusable, but the primary components of its engine are 3D printed, which the company hopes will help them to build them quickly.
US-New Zealand aerospace company Rocket Lab is blaming a contractor for data problems, which forced it to terminate the flight of its first rocket launch earlier this year.
The Electron rocket, designed to carry small satellites into low orbit cheaper than current alternatives, successfully launched from the remote Mahia Peninsula, between Napier and Gisborne, in May, but it didn't reach orbit as planned and the flight was terminated.
The company this week said it had reviewed the launch data and found the problem lay with an independent contractor's equipment.