Startup Rocket Lab Delivers Seven Payloads to Orbit


Rocket Lab put seven spacecraft in orbit on Saturday with its first commercial launch, as the company grew its lead in the burgeoning small rocket industry.

Rocket Lab's Curie kick stage deployed from the Electron second stage around nine minutes after liftoff, in an elliptical parking orbit with a low point around 120 miles (200 kilometers) and a high point around 499km (500 kilometers) above Earth, and an inclination of 85 degrees. Dozens of employees gathered at the company's headquarters in Auckland clad in Rocket Lab's black-and-red colours and let out a series of primordial screams as the rocket took off, flew into space and dropped its satellite payload into orbit. The private launch pad of the organization in New Zealand happens to be the first privately operated launch pad in the world.

"The world is waking up to the new normal", said Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck, speaking of the triumphant launch. The rocket is only 17 meters tall, which is only a one-fourth the size of its bigger siblings like Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX.

But Beck said many in the industry are willing to pay for the convenience of an Electron rocket.

For all the expansion, Beck has no plans to move into larger rockets and challenge Space X's heavy-lifting lineup. IRVINE01, as it is called, is also the first satellite that will have Accion Systems' electrospray thrust modules, tiny modular things that are highly efficient and ideal for small craft, according to Tech Crunch.

There are many budding competitors to Rocket Lab (they include a Richard Branson effort that will launch rockets an "airborne platform" - or a modified Boeing 747). From there, the "Electron" the rocket twice before test flown in may 2017 and January 2018.

First up was the IRVINE01 CubeSat, built by students in Southern California, followed by two ship-tracking and weather-data-collection crafts for Spire Global, two pathfinder-data relay satellites from Fleet Space Technologies, and the CICERO 10 commercial weather satellite built by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems for GeoOptics. Its remote location should allow Rocket Lab to launch frequently - the company hopes to get to one launch a week and then to one every three days - as air and boat traffic are relatively low.