Tag Archives: New Zealand

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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A detailed look at Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket

Link here. The article provides some details about the first two launches, but its most interesting section discusses the rocket’s Curie kick stage.

“We kind of made a philosophical decision in that we weren’t going to do multiple burns on the second stage because what that does is it puts the second stage in orbit, in high orbit,” said Mr. Beck. “What we’re trying to do here is launch frequently, and the way that we’ve designed our trajectories is that the second stage will always go into a transfer orbit, which is a nice elliptical orbit, where it deorbits very quickly, and then we use the kick stage to do any orbit raising or circularization.”

This design was specifically chosen so that Rocket Lab would not put large second stages into orbit and would fly responsibly by deorbiting Electron’s second stage quickly so as not to contribute significantly to the space debris environment. “We build this infrastructure in orbit in a sustainable way, and leaving second stages in high orbits is not really conducive to that. So what it means is … we’re just putting a little Curie module up into orbit, and we also have deorbit capability on that, too.”

Moreover, the Curie kick-stage was a direct result of Rocket Lab talking to and listening to their customer base – who wanted to make sure that on ride share missions of Electron that all payloads were separate safely and not re-contact other small satellites launched/deployed on that same mission.

No word yet on when they will fly next, though it sounds as if there will be a number of launches this year, at an ever-increasing pace.

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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 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 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 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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Rocket Lab delivers first test rocket to launch site

The competition heats up: Rocket Lab has delivered its first test rocket to its New Zealand launch complex in preparation for testing.

Over the coming weeks, a series of tests and checkouts will be conducted at the site before the rocket, named “It’s a Test,” is signed-off to fly. “We put it out to our team to name the vehicle,” said Beck. “We wanted to acknowledge the intensive research and development Electron has undergone and that continues with these test flights.”

The launch, which will be the first orbital launch attempt from New Zealand, is the first of three planned tests before Rocket Lab begins providing customers commercial satellite launches.

They hope to launch their first commercial payload on an operational Electron rocket before the end of this year.

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Rocket Lab completes construction of first launchpad

The competition heats up: Rocket Lab today announced the completion of its first launch complex at its launch site in New Zealand.

Air traffic near the launch complex site is fairly sparse, which the company says will allow it to achieve the “highest frequency of launches in history,” according to a statement from the company obtained by Space.com. Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s CEO, told Space.com in an interview that the complex is licensed to conduct a launch as frequently as every 72 hours. However, the company expects to carry out a launch about four to five times per month, he said.

The statement from Rocket Lab declared its new facility “the world’s first private orbital launch complex.” The private spaceflight company Blue Origin operates a private launch facility in Texas, but has only used that facility for suborbital flights. The private spaceflight company SpaceX has not yet completed construction on its private orbital launch facility in Texas.

They say they will begin test launches before the end of the year.

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New Zealand government okays commercial launches by Rocket Lab

The competition heats up: The New Zealand government has signed an interim contract authorizing commercial launches by the private company Rocket Lab, pending passage of permanent authorizing legislation next year.

Rocket Lab, which operates a private satellite launch site on the Mahia Peninsula between Napier and Gisborne, intends to start launch operations later this year, Minister for Economic Development Steven Joyce said in a statement. The contract is an interim measure, preceding the Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Bill which will be introduced to Parliament this month to provide a regulatory regime for space launches from New Zealand.

The government wants the bill passed into law by mid-2017, Joyce said. In June, New Zealand signed the Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA) with the United States government, which allows commercial entities, including Rocket Lab, to import launch technology and satellites from the US.

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Rocket Labs picks New Zealand for its launch site

The competition heats up: The small sat rocket company Rocket Labs has chosen a location in New Zealand as its future launch site.

Rocket Lab’s all-black Electron booster offers launch for less than $5 million. The company, whose investors include Lockheed Martin, is targeting clients such as university programs and small start-ups, Beck said, and it already has 30 potential clients.

The company didn’t specify how much it was investing in the site, which is due to be completed in the fourth quarter. New Zealand, which has been used in the past by the National Aeronautical and Space Administration, is considered a prime location because rockets launched from that deep in the Southern hemisphere can reach a wide range of Earth orbits. Rocket Lab’s remote site on the Kaitorete Spit in the Canterbury region also means it has less air and sea traffic, which translates into more frequent launches and economies of scale, the company said. It also will no longer compete for airspace with the U.S. government.

Rocket Labs will have to actually launch something to really make the competition heat up. This announcement, however, illustrates that in the long run, the United States has some significant disadvantages as a spaceport location.

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