Tag Archives: Electron

Rocket Lab delays launch

Rocket Lab has decided to delay its April 20th launch Electron launch to its next launch window to give it time to review a technical issue uncovered during a dress rehearsal countdown last week.

In an interview during the 34th Space Symposium here, Rocket Lab Chief Executive Peter Beck said that engineers detected “unusual behavior” in a motor controller for one of the nine engines in its first stage. “We want to take some time to review that data,” he said on the decision to delay the launch.

The next launch window for the mission is in about three weeks, he said. While Rocket Lab owns its own launch site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula, he said the company has to work with third parties that provide range safety services when scheduling launches. That should also be enough time, he added to assess the problem and make any hardware changes to the vehicle.

The second paragraph explains why they announce their launch dates as windows. They must give the local communities surrounding their launchpad sufficient notice of when a launch is planned. Interestingly, this system will become irrelevant when they start launching every two weeks, as planned by the next year. When that happens, there will always be a launch window open.

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Rocket Lab’s future plans

Capitalism in space: This New Zealand news article provides a good look at Rocket Lab’s future launch plans.

Essentially, they hope to do one launch a month later this year, two launches a month in 2019, and then one launch per week in 2020. The article also states that their Electron rocket could have launched two thirds of all satellites placed in space in 2015.

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Fueling issue during Electron countdown dress rehearsal

Rocket Lab today experienced a fueling issue during a countdown dress rehearsal in preparation for a April 20th launch.

Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck said the company “experienced a minor fuelling issue on the pad today during a wet dress rehearsal” on Sunday. “Our team is working through the data to ascertain the root cause. As per standard procedure, Fire and Emergency New Zealand is on site as a precautionary measure while the team closes out pad activities for the day.”

It is unclear if this unknown issue will effect their launch window, which begins on April 20 and lasts for two weeks.

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Rocket Lab next launch window opens April 20

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today announced that the first official operational launch of its Electron rocket will take place in a window beginning April 20.

If this launch is successful, expect the company to begin to ramp up its launch pace. Their goal is to have the ability to launch once every three days, which will also give them the ability to quickly schedule payloads at a moment’s notice.

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Rocket Lab unaffected by Swarm/FCC kerfuffle

Rocket Lab is proceeding with preparations for its next and first commercial Electron rocket launch, despite the removal of four Swarm nanosats because the FCC had cancelled its launch license.

Rocket Lab spokeswoman Morgan Bailey said the matter was between Swarm and the FCC, and had not caused any delay to preparations for Rocket Lab’s next launch, which is tipped to take place in April. “For us, it doesn’t really create any issues.”

Its Electron rockets are designed to carry a payload of up to 150 kilograms, meaning the tiny Swarm satellites would only be a small part of any cargo.

It appears the launch will occur in April, though an exact date and a description of its payload has not yet been released.

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Smoking battery at Rocket Lab facility

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab is investigating why one of the rocket batteries for its Electron rocket started smoking over the weekend.

Rocket Lab is investigating what caused a rocket battery to overheat and start smoking at its manufacturing facility near Auckland Airport on Sunday night. Rocket Lab spokeswoman Morgan Bailey said fire emergency services were called as a precaution to its site in Mangere at 7pm on Sunday after a battery on an Electron rocket overheated and started smoking.

She said she did not know what action was being made on the rocket when the battery overheated, but the company was looking into it.

No one was hurt in the incident.

They are clearly being tight-lipped about this, partly because of the bad press it might cause and partly because they don’t wish to reveal proprietary information.

Note that this article has me rethinking Rocket Lab as an American company. Based on this article their operations and manufacturing are both in New Zealand. It seems that even if the company was conceived and officially incorporated in the U.S., the rocket is a New Zealand born baby.

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Rocket Lab to launch NASA and Naval Academy smallsats

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has obtained contracts with both NASA and the U.S. Naval Academy to launch a dozen cubesats.

Rocket Lab says it has performed a successful fit check of the CubeSat dispensers for the NASA Venture Class Launch of its Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) XIX mission, which will put a total 12 mini CubeSats into orbit.

A Rocket lab spokeswoman said those would include the Shields-1 payload from NASA’s Langley Research Center, which would focus on studying the harmful effects of harsh radiation environments to spacecraft.

The article doesn’t give any information on the contract itself.

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Google Lunar X-Prize announces that it will award no winners

The Google Lunar X-Prize announced today that none of its five finalists will be able to fly a mission to the Moon before the March 31, 2018 deadline, and thus the prize will be awarded to no one.

With Rocket Lab’s successful Electron launch this past weekend, I thought there might be chance Moon Express might get off the ground by the end of March. They were the only finalist that had any shot at making the deadline. However, the timing of this announcement today suggests to me that Moon Express probably consulted with Rocket Lab after the launch, and probably learned that it was unwise to push for a quick launch. Moon Express then probably contacted the Google Lunar X-Prize to say they wouldn’t be able to win, which in turn resulted in today’s announcement.

The contest however was not a failure. Several of the contestants, most especially Moon Express, have said that they are moving forward as private companies offering the scientific community inexpensive planetary missions. I hope that the foundation these companies laid during the competition will result in real missions in the near future.

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Rocket Lab succeeds in placing three satellites in orbit on second test launch

Capitalism in space: The small rocket company Rocket Lab successfully placed three smallsats in orbit on the second test launch of its Electron rocket yesterday.

I have posted the video of the launch below the fold. Everything unfolded smoothly and without any issues, including the video feed. This success bodes well for Moon Express’s effort to win the Google Lunar X-Prize, which has a deadline the end of March. Though Rocket Lab had said it wants to do three test launches before initiating commercial services, they have already initiated those services with the placement of three satellites by two customers on this launch yesterday. They have also hinted that if this launch was a success they might accelerate commercial operations.

In addition, ULA successfully launched a military satellite on two days ago with its Atlas 5 rocket. The 2018 launch stands are thus as follows:

4 China
2 ULA
1 SpaceX
1 Rocket Lab
1 Japan
1 India

I should add that though the U.S.’s total matches China at the moment, the government shut down prevents any further U.S. launches. It also prevents SpaceX from doing its Falcon Heavy static fire test. (I wonder: would this be an issue if SpaceX was launching from its private launchsite at Boca Chica?)
» Read more

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Rocket Lab announces January launch window

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has announced that it will attempt the second test launch of its Electron rocket during a nine day launch window beginning on January 20.

Bad weather and technical issues prevented this launch in December. Meanwhile, Japan is also planning a test launch in January of its only smallsat rocket, the SS-520. The Japanese entry is a demo mission designed and built by that country’s space agency, while Rocket Lab is entirely private. Both however provide more evidence that 2018 will be a booming year (no pun intended) for rockets.

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Rocket Lab pins down cause of launch abort

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has identified the cause of yesterday’s abort of its Electron rocket, and is ready to proceed tomorrow with the launch.

Rocket Lab says its launch yesterday was aborted due to rising liquid oxygen (LOx) temperatures feeding into one of the Electron’s nine engines. The launch attempt was aborted two seconds before lift-off from its range on Mahia Peninsula between Gisborne and Napier.

It says it will attempt to launch again tomorrow – after 2.30pm – and that the 17m rocket or pad equipment wasn’t damaged.

The company said the slight LOx temperature increase was a result of a ”LOx chill-down bleed schedule” that was not compatible with the warm weather.

This is not that different than the kinds of issues SpaceX experienced in its early launch attempts of both its Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets. It appears that getting the temperature and pressure of the liquid oxygen right is critical, and requires some in use trials to figure it out. With SpaceX, they eventually were able to enhance the process enough to allow them to cool the oxygen to make it more dense and thus get more of it in the tanks to increase the rocket’s launch capacity.

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Rocket Lab launch aborted at engine start

Capitalism in space: The second test flight of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket was aborted just after engine start today (December 12 in New Zealand).

Members of Rocket Lab’s launch team called out ignition of the first stage’s engines as the countdown ticked off the final few seconds before liftoff, followed by an abort.

“Umbilicals in, power’s all up,” one member of the launch team called out over a loop broadcast on Rocket Lab’s live video stream. “Confirm Stage 1 engines have stopped,” an engineer later announced.

A countdown graphic on Rocket Lab’s video feed stopped at T-minus 2 seconds. “As you can see, the vehicle had an abort during the launch auto sequence,” said Daniel Gillies, Rocket Lab’s mission management and integration director who provided commentary on the company’s webcast. “At this stage of flight, the vehicle flight computer is actively monitoring a wide range of vehicle performance parameters, and when any of these parameters are violated, the vehicle determines that its not ready of flight and holds the count.”

The rocket is fine. Though they have not said what caused the abort, they have set their next launch attempt for two days from now, in the evening in the U.S.

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Rocket Lab delays Electron launch till Tuesday

Capitalism in space: Mostly because of poor weather Rocket Lab scrubbed its second launch of its Electron rocket today.

They will try again tomorrow, which in the U.S. will be 8:30 pm Eastern time tonight. The link above will provide a live stream of the launch itself.

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Rocket Lab delays test launch until Friday

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab’s second test launch of its Electron rocket has been delayed until Friday (U.S. time) to give the company more prep time.

Liftoff with three commercial CubeSat payloads was planned as soon as Thursday night, U.S. time, but officials said they needed more time.

The company transported the Electron vehicle to its launch base last month, after completing full-up hotfire testing. The launch team rehearsed countdown procedures last week, and practiced loading kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the rocket. “We did a hotfire campaign as a big preparatory test, so all that was done over a month ago,” said Shaun O’Donnell, Rocket Lab’s vice president of global operations. “The wet dress rehearsal went really well. It went really smooth, especially for our first run at it, so we’re really confident.”

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Moon Express will launch to Moon in 2018, regardless of X-Prize deadline

Capitalism in space: The head of Moon Express said yesterday that the company will definitely fly its privately-built lunar rover to the Moon in 2018, regardless of whether that flight occurs in time to win the Google Lunar X-Prize.

The company is competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE which has a $20 million reward for the first private firm to put a spacecraft on the moon, travel 500 meters, and transmit high definition video and images back to earth. The deadline for doing this is March 2018.

Jain did not give an exact date for the launch and said that getting the prize isn’t necessarily the main priority.

It appears to me that the main reason they will not make the deadline is because Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket won’t be ready in time. This is why its second test launch in the coming weeks is so important. If successful, it increases the chances that Moon Express will be able to meet the X-Prize deadline.

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Rocket Lab sets launch window for 2nd Electron launch test

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has scheduled a ten day launch window, beginning on December 8, for its second Electron rocket launch test.

Because this test will also carry three smallsats for commercial customers it suggests they have strong hopes it will reach orbit.

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Rocket Lab prepares for second test launch of Electron rocket

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab’s second test Electron rocket has arrived at the company’s New Zealand launch facility in preparation for the rocket’s second flight.

They hope after several weeks of check-out they will be able to announce a launch date. The launch, though intended entirely as a test, will still carry three commercial cubesats, which Rocket Lab hopes to place in orbit.

For the Google Lunar X-Prize contestant Moon Express this launch is critical. They must launch by the end of March to win the prize, and are dependent on Electron as their rocket.

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Rocket Lab preps for 2nd flight of Electron

Capitalism in space: Smallsat rocket company Rocket Lab is preparing for the second test flight of its rocket Electron, now set for October.

The test flight will also carry four commercial nanosats.

Both Planet and Spire — two companies that operate small satellites in orbit — will have payloads on the Electron’s second test flight, dubbed “Still Testing.” The rocket will carry two of Planet’s Dove satellites, designed to image Earth, as well as two of Spire’s Lemur-2 satellites that track weather and ship traffic.

The company also states that if this second flight is successful, they might forego a third test flight and move directly to commercial operations.

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Rocket Lab looks to second test flight of Electron

Capitalism in space: Having completed its review of its first May test flight of its Electron rocket, Rocket Lab now looks to the second test flight.

The article gives a good overview of the results from the first test flight. It also has this tidbit:

The second of Rocket Lab’s three planned test flights is scheduled later this year. If that launch goes well, the company will likely delete the third demonstration mission, and the first commercial Electron flight could be ready for takeoff by the end of December, Beck said last week.

“We’ve got the next test flight rolling out out to the pad in about eight weeks’ time,” Beck said. “If it’s a really good clean flight, we’ll probably accelerate into commercial operations.”

If they follow this schedule, then the next flight will be in mid-October, and the Moon Express launch of its lunar rover will occur in mid-December, just in time to win the Google Lunar X-Prize.

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Ground equipment caused premature end to first Rocket Lab launch

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab’s first test flight of its Electron rocket in May was terminated early because of a loss of communications due to an “misconfiguration” of ground telemetry equipment.

The company said the fix for the issue was “simple” and that “corrective procedures” were put into place to prevent it from happening in the future. Rocket Lab said it did not make any major changes to the Electron hardware.

No word on when their second test launch will take place. For their Moon Express customer, the clock is ticking, as that company is a Google Lunar X-prize contestant that needs to launch its lunar rover before the end of this year to have a chance at winning the prize.

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Next test flight of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket delayed

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has revealed that the second test flight of its rocket Electron is still several months away.

Rocket Lab is in the early stages of a three-vehicle test programme and Moon Express is still developing its lander at its facilities at Cape Canaveral, from where Apollo missions were launched. Rocket Lab’s first test launch successfully made it to space in late May. The first stage performed as it should but the second stage failed to deliver the payload to orbit.

Results of data analysis from the test flight could be available some time next week.

Earlier this month Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck said the company and its investors had confidence in the programme and they had another five rockets in various stages of production.
Beck said then a second test launch was about two or three months away and the company hoped to get its commercial launches underway as soon as it was satisfied with the test programme.

The company had previously said it hoped to launch the second test flight in mid-2017. It appears now that the second launch will not happen before October.

The article is strangely focused on selling the idea that Moon Express’s Google Lunar X-Prize flight, which must occur by the end of this year, is still on track. I don’t see how, with this news. Rocket Lab must first complete its three test flights, and I don’t see how they can do this, get their results, and update their engineering and still get this first commercial flight off by December.

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Rocket Lab launches its first Electron rocket

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today successfully completed the first test flight of their Electron rocket.

The rocket did not reach orbit, though it did reach space altitude. More details here.

“It has been an incredible day and I’m immensely proud of our talented team,” said Peter Beck, CEO and founder of Rocket Lab. “We’re one of a few companies to ever develop a rocket from scratch and we did it in under four years. We’ve worked tirelessly to get to this point. We’ve developed everything in house, built the world’s first private orbital launch range, and we’ve done it with a small team.

“It was a great flight. We had a great first stage burn, stage separation, second stage ignition and fairing separation. We didn’t quite reach orbit and we’ll be investigating why, however reaching space in our first test puts us in an incredibly strong position to accelerate the commercial phase of our program, deliver our customers to orbit and make space open for business,” says Beck.

It appears they had a problem with the upper stage. Nonetheless, this is a great achievement. They were completely privately funded. They built their own launchpad. When they make orbit they will be the first company to have done such a thing.

I have embedded footage of the launch below the fold.
» Read more

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Rocket Lab launch delayed

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has delayed its first test launch of its Electron rocket because of predicted high winds.

The company has not yet said if they have rescheduled for Tuesday.

This article gives a very detailed overview of the rocket, its engines, and the history of its launch site. It also notes that if successful, the launch will be first orbital flight ever from a commercial company from its own commercial launch site.

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FAA issues launch license to Rocket Lab

Capitalism in space: The FAA has issued a launch license to Rocket Lab for three launches from New Zealand.

This is no surprise. As I noted on May 15, I suspect the reason Rocket Lab announced its launch date for May 22 before getting the launch license was to force the FAA to finally issue it.

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Rocket Lab gets another contract

Capitalism in space: With its first test launch set for Monday, Rocket Lab today earned a new launch contract, this time from Spaceflight, a company that acts as a charter company putting together launches for smallsat companies.

Spaceflight buys a launch from a rocket company, and then sells slots to smallsat companies that cannot afford to buy the whole launch. This way Spaceflight can tailor each launch to the needs of the different smallsats. Though they have previously purchased launches from India’s PSLV, Russia’s Dnepr, and SpaceX’s Falcon 9, Rocket Lab’s Electron fits this model more perfectly, because — as a small rocket designed for smallsats, it doesn’t require a lot of smallsats to fill its payload. Thus, they can offer the smallsats on board access to orbits not normally available. This will make it relatively easy to find customers for the launch.

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

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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