Tag Archives: Rocket Lab

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

Rocket Lab raises $75 million

The competition heats up: Rocket Lab announced today that it has raised an additional $75 million in investment capital.

The new funding round is led by venture capital firm Data Collective, with contributions from another VC firm, Promus Ventures, and an undisclosed investor. Several prior investors, including Bessemer Venture Partners, Khosla Ventures and K1W1, also participated in the round.

Rocket Lab said the Series D round brings the total raised by the company to $148 million, and values the company at more than $1 billion. Rocket Lab announced a Series B round of unspecified size in 2015, and Peter Beck, the company’s chief executive, said the company did an unannounced Series C round in the interim involving only existing investors.

In an interview, Beck said the money will go towards increasing the production capacity for its Electron rocket, set to make its debut later this year. “This is really all about scaling,” he said. “The funding is all about producing the vehicle in much more significant numbers.”

They say they will make their first launch in the coming months, but remain vague about specific dates.

Share

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.

Share

Moon Express completes funding for Google X-Prize lunar mission

The competition heats up: Moon Express, one of the five remaining contestants vying for the Google Lunar X-Prize, announced today that it has raised an additional $20 million to complete the necessary funding needed to complete its mission.

The new round brings the total Moon Express has raised to $45 million. Richards said the company is looking to raise an additional $10 million as a “contingency” and to support future missions. “This is not a stunt,” he said. “We’re not putting all our eggs in one basket.”

The company is developing a small lunar lander called the MX-1E. The spacecraft is designed to land on the moon and then “hop” to another landing site, fulfilling the requirement of the Google Lunar X Prize to travel at least 500 meters across the surface after landing. That initial mission will carry scientific and commercial payloads from several customers. Richards said Moon Express is currently focusing on the spacecraft’s key technology, its propulsion system. The company previously tested that propulsion technology in tests at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, but Richards said the company is making changes to improve its performance.

That additional performance is needed since the spacecraft will launch on Electron, a small launch vehicle being developed by U.S.-New Zealand company Rocket Lab, which can only take the lander into low Earth orbit. Earlier mission concepts called for launching on a larger vehicle that could place the spacecraft into a geostationary transfer orbit. “We need that extra punch from our own engine in order to get to the moon,” Richards said.

The article provides one more tidbit, this time about Rocket Lab and its Electron rocket:

The company’s current schedule calls for integrating the spacecraft in July, and then shipping it to Rocket Lab’s New Zealand launch site in October. The launch, scheduled for late this year, will be the seventh or eighth operational flight of the Electron, Richards said, shortly after a NASA mission under a Venture Class Launch Services contract Rocket Lab received in late 2015.

Although Rocket Lab has yet to launch an Electron — its first test flight is scheduled for no earlier than February — Richards believed the company would be ready in time for Moon Express, which faces a deadline of the end of this year to win the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize before the prize expires. [emphasis mine]

In other words, if things go as planned, Rocket Lab will launch Electron in February, and then do about one launch per month before it launches Moon Express. That will be an impressive start for the new rocket company, should they succeed in doing it.

Share

Rocket Lab rocket ready for first test flights

The competition heats up: Rocket Lab announced Monday that their new rocket, Electron, is on schedule for its first test flights early in 2017.

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.

It appears right now that this company is in the lead to be the first smallsat rocket company in operation. I would guess that Vector Space Systems is second.

Share

Rocket Lab delays first rocket test flights

Rocket Lab has revealed that it will not conduct its first test flight of its new Electron rocket before the end of the year.

Rocket Lab originally scheduled road closures for test launches between November 17 and December 24. The company is now planning to conduct the first test flight early next year. Rocket Lab media spokeswoman Catherine Moreau-Hammond said the team had worked tirelessly this year, and with the holidays fast approaching they felt it best to allow everyone a decent break. Ms Moreau-Hammond said this would also alleviate some pressure on Mahia, which experiences a considerable population spike through the Christmas holidays.

This is a new company, a new rocket, a new launchpad, in a new country inexperienced in rocket launches. It is therefore not surprising that things have been delayed.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

Rocket Lab gets new launch contract

The competition heats up: Rocket Lab has signed a three launch contract with the smallsat Earth resources satellite company Planet (formerly Planet Labs).

The contract covers three dedicated launches of Dove satellites built by San Francisco-based Planet, formerly known as Planet Labs, on Electron vehicles. The companies did not announce terms of the deal, although Rocket Lab quotes a list price of $4.9 million per Electron launch on its website.

Mike Safyan, director of launch and regulatory affairs for Planet, said in an interview during the International Space Station Research and Development Conference here that the number of satellites that each launch will carry is still being determined, but will likely be between 20 and 25. Each Dove is a three-unit cubesat with a mass of about five kilograms.

If this report as well as previous ones are correct, the first Electron rocket launch will happen before the end of this year.

Share

First test flight for Rocket Lab upcoming

The competition heats up: With ground testing of its second stage completed, the first test flight of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket is expected before the end of the year.

They are getting their launch site in New Zealand up and running, are beginning qualification tests of Electron’s first stage, and if all goes as scheduled hope to begin commercial launches in 2017.

Share

First Rocket Lab launch this year

The competition heats up: The new launch company Rocket Lab has announced that it expects the inaugural launch of its Electron rocket to take place sometime in the middle of this year.

The company announced March 22 that it has completed qualification tests of the Rutherford engine, allowing it to be used in flights of the Electron vehicle. A video released by the company showed the engine firing on a test stand for more than two and a half minutes.

The first launch is planned for the middle of this year, company spokeswoman Catherine Moreau-Hammond said March 23, with the overall flight test program running through the second half of the year. Those launches are planned from a site the company is developing on New Zealand’s North Island.

This company is in direct competition with Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne, and like everyone will likely be in operation first, beating Branson’s company despite starting almost a decade later.

Share

A new cheap rocket company

The competition heats up: A New Zealand company says it is building a rocket capable of launching cubesats into orbit for only $5 million.

Rocket Lab says it is building a carbon-composited launch vehicle –named Electron—which will send small satellites into earth’s orbit for five million U.S. dollars. The U.S. company, which is building the vehicle in New Zealand, expects the first to be ready next year and already has committed to its first 30 launch slots.

Though their low cost will once again increase the space launch customer base, they are not really in competition with any of the big players, who don’t really make their money launching cubesats. Instead, by focusing on the cubesat market, Rocket Lab is aimed at providing launch services to a niche that has, up until now, had no real launch services. If a university or small company wanted to launch a cubesat., they had to piggyback on a large launch.

Share