Rocket Lab’s payload on its first suborbital test launch of its Electron rocket

Until today it was unclear whether the successful first suborbital launch of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket on June 17, 2023 carried a payload. Now we know it did:

The launch took place at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and demonstrated the Multi-Service Advanced Capability Hypersonic Test Bed, or MACH-TB, program’s first suborbital flight of a hypersonic payload.

MACH-TB is led by the Pentagon’s Test Resource Management Center and the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Crane Division. The team selected Leidos as the program’s prime integrator last September, and California-based space company Rocket Lab is one of 12 subcontractors supporting the effort.

It appears the Pentagon program that funded MACH-TB is a different program — from a different Pentagon office — from the one that is funding the next suborbital hypersonic test using Electron. Nor is this unusual for the military. The duplication of these Pentagon programs, with multiple bureaucracies, says a lot more about the utter waste and incompetence and corruption in DC than it does about hypersonic suborbital testing.

For Rocket Lab however this duplication is great news, as it provides the company at least two different customers for its suborbital rocket.

Rocket Lab completes first suborbital test launch of its Electron rocket

As part of its contract for providing the Defense Department with a testbed for hypersonic testing, Rocket Lab on June 17, 2023 successfully completed the first suborbital test launch of its Electron rocket.

The HASTE suborbital launch vehicle is derived from the Company’s Electron rocket but has a modified Kick Stage for hypersonic payload deployment, a larger payload capacity of up to 700 kg / 1,540 lbs, and options for tailored fairings to accommodate larger payloads, including air-breathing, ballistic re-entry, boost-glide, and space-based applications payloads. By leveraging the heritage of Rocket Lab’s low-cost Electron – the world’s most frequently launched commercial small launch vehicle – HASTE offers true commercial testing capability at a fraction of the cost of current full-scale tests.

Because of its military nature, Rocket Lab’s press release was generally terse in providing details. Sources in the industry tell me that this launch was designed to prove out the required suborbital capabilities of Electron prior to the first hypersonic test flight. When that flight takes place, it will carry a hypersonic test vehicle built by another company, Hypersonix.

Rocket Lab with this launch demonstrated again the smart flexibility of the company. It only announced this suborbital concept for Electron in April. Only two months later it has test flown it. It is now ready to fly an actual hypersonic test flight, and waits only for the test vehicle to be provided by Hypersonix. The speed of this program leap-frogged Stratolaunch, which is also offering its Roc airplane and Talon hypersonic test vehicle to the military but started its project in late 2020 and is still not ready for flight.

Rocket Lab about to launch a secret mission

Rocket Lab is gearing up to launch a rocket from Wallops sometime between June 15th and June 20th but it will provide no live stream and no press access.

The article at the link then speculates that this launch might be the first military hypersonic test flight using a suborbital version of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket.

That launcher is called HASTE, short for “Hypersonic Accelerator Suborbital Test Electron.” As that name suggests, HASTE is derived from the workhorse Electron and is designed to help test technologies for hypersonic craft — highly maneuverable vehicles capable of flying at least five times the speed of sound.

HASTE can haul up to 1,540 pounds (700 kilograms) of payload aloft, whereas Electron can deliver a maximum of 660 pounds (300 kg) to low Earth orbit. The suborbital rocket also features a modified version of Electron’s “kick stage” specialized for the deployment of hypersonic payloads, Rocket Lab said in an April 17 statement that announced HASTE’s existence.

The suborbital rocket is scheduled to make its debut right about now, on a mission whose details are hard to come by, according to that statement.

If so, we will only find out some limited details after launch, based on what the military decides to release publicly.

Regardless, the HASTE project demonstrates the ability of Rocket Lab to quickly improvise in order to find new ways to make money from its existing assets. For its stockholders, it is another piece of evidence that the company is a good investment.

Rocket Lab introduces a suborbital version of its Electron rocket for hypersonic flight testing

Rocket Lab today announced the availability of a suborbital version of its Electron rocket, dubbed HASTE, designed to do frequent hypersonic flight tests, with its first commercial flight scheduled in the first half of this year.

HASTE is evolved from Rocket Lab’s flagship Electron launch vehicle, which has been providing reliable access to orbit since 2018 and has successfully deployed satellites for NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office), DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and the U.S. Space Force. HASTE employs the same innovative carbon composite structure and 3D printed Rutherford engines as Electron but has a modified Kick Stage for hypersonic payload deployment, a larger payload capacity of up to 700 kg / 1,540 lbs, and options for tailored fairings to accommodate larger payloads.

It appears that Rocket Lab is attempting to grab market share from Stratolaunch’s Roc/Talon hypersonic testbed, which is gearing up to do its own first hypersonic test flights this year.