Rocket Lab delivers first test rocket to launch site

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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.



  • Des

    New Zealand is quite far away from the equator compared to other launch pads. This will be a disadvantage if putting a satellite into equatorial orbit. It won’t matter for polar orbits which is maybe what most small sats use?

  • Edward

    I had been under the impression that they had delayed a test flight until after Christmas in order to prevent road closures that would disrupt the local residents during a celebratory time of year. I thought that they already had a rocket in hand. It just goes to show what assumptions we can make from news reports.

    Rocket Labs seems to be emphasizing Sun-synchronous orbits. Sun-synchronous orbits can be desirable, because the orbital plane revolves around the Earth at the same rate that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Thus, a satellite can remain in sunshine without the need for batteries, to cover time spent in Earth’s shadow, and this allows for additional payload than if batteries were needed.

    You are correct in that there are not many small satellites in Geostationary orbit (GSO), in which case an equatorial launch would be optimal. Constellations of small satellites tend to be in LEO, and for most of their missions they want at least one visible to various points on the Earth at any given time. For that, they tend to need to be in highly inclined orbits or even in polar orbits. The Iridium constellation and the GPS constellation are good examples of this technique, as they are in high inclination orbits, where an equatorial launch would be suboptimal.

    Twenty years ago, I thought that nanotechnology would quickly reduce the size of many satellites. Some satellites, such as most GSO communication satellites, require a lot of power and heat radiation, and they will remain large in size for a long while to come.

    There is an annual convention for small satellites, which has been meeting for three decades. A couple of decades ago, many people thought that small satellites were about to become popular, and a few companies developed smaller launchers for the market, but it didn’t happen after all. SpaceX developed the Falcon 1 for the small satellite market, but the market was still not forthcoming a decade ago, either, so SpaceX focused on Falcon 9 and the market for large satellites.

    This time, however, there is much more interest in small satellites, and the market looks real. The unfortunate part is that there probably is not enough market for all of the proposed launchers, so we should expect to see several more failures of small launcher companies, such as Firefly. Rocket Labs seems to be just in time to take advantage of the early market, and I wish them luck.

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