Rocket Lab sets May 21 for first test launch of its Electron rocket


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Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today announced that it has scheduled the first test flight of its Electron rocket for May 21.

The company is setting expectations for a test launch that may suffer delays and could end in failure. “During this first launch attempt it is possible we will scrub multiple attempts as we wait until we are ready and conditions are favorable,” Beck said in the statement.

The launch, as the company’s name for it emphasizes [“It’s a test], is a test flight, with no satellite payload on board. The launch is the first of three such test flights Rocket Lab plans before beginning commercial launches later this year.

Rocket Lab plans to carry out the launch largely out of public view. The company said a press kit about the mission that there will be no public viewing sites in the vicinity of its New Zealand launch site for this mission. There are also no plans to webcast the launch, although the company said it will provide video footage “following a successful launch.”

Although Rocket Lab is launching from New Zealand, the company is headquartered in the United States, and thus will require a launch license from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for this and future Electron missions. As of May 14, the FAA had not published a launch license for this flight. [emphasis mine]

I have highlighted the last paragraph above because it is to me the most interesting part of this entire story. What happens if Rocket Lab never gets its U.S. launch license and launches anyway? They are launching on foreign soil. It really is none of the FAA’s business, even if the company is based in the U.S. Will they fine them? Call them names?

I suspect that one reason they have made the announcement first, before getting their license, is to pressure the FAA bureaucrats to get off their duffs and get moving. In the past both Virgin Galactic and SpaceX have done the same thing, and got their licenses very quickly thereafter.

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One comment

  • John E Bowen

    I would also hope it is none of the FAA’s business, but it does get kind of murky. Furthermore, Rocket Lab’s future US customers might be reluctant if the launch company wasn’t in good standing.

    It is what it is: the US has a big reach, big sphere of influence.

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