Spaceflight Insider

‘It’s Business Time’: Rocket Lab sets April 20 for next Electron launch

A file photo of the maiden flight of the electron rocket in May 2017. While that mission did not see the vehicle achieve orbit, the second flight in January 2018, dubbed "Still Testing," did. The third flight, "It's Business Time," will be the first fully-commercial mission for the rocket. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab

A file photo of the maiden flight of the electron rocket in May 2017. While that mission did not see the vehicle achieve orbit, the second flight in January 2018, dubbed “Still Testing,” did. The third flight, “It’s Business Time,” will be the first fully-commercial mission for the rocket. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab announced a launch date for the first fully-commercial flight of its Electron rocket. The mission named “It’s Business Time” is expected to host payloads for Spire Global and GeoOptics that are built by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, according to a news release from the launch service provider.

For some two weeks, starting on April 20, 2018, Rocket Lab will have a daily four-hour launch window that opens at 12:30 p.m. New Zealand Time (8:30 p.m. EDT / 00:30 GMT). The small Electron rocket will fly from the company’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, which is currently the world’s only private orbital launch facility.

Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1 sits at the end of the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 sits at the end of the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab

“It’s Business Time” marks the fastest transition a private launch provider has made from test program to fully commercial flights, the company said in its press release.

Three months ago, the company launched its second Electron rocket on the mission dubbed, “Still Testing.” According to the company, that flight saw the successful deployment of an Earth-imaging satellite for software-based imaging satellite company Planet and circularized the orbit of two weather and AIS ship tracking satellites for Spire Global using an in-house designed and built kick stage.

Rocket lab said “Still Testing” was the first launch of commercial payloads, but “It’s Business Time” represents the shift to responsive space.

“We always set out to create a vehicle and launch site that could offer the world’s most frequent launch capability and we’re achieving that in record time,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck. “Rocket Lab is the only small launch provider that has reached orbit and delivered on promises to open access to space for small satellites. We can have payloads on orbit every 72 hours and our rapidly expanding manifest shows this is frequency is critical for the small satellite market.”

Created in 2006, Rocket Lab’s mission is to develop and launch small payloads into orbit frequently providing more affordable payload deployment. The two-stage, 56-foot (17-meter) tall Electron rocket is designed to send a payload of up to 330 pounds (150 kilograms) to a 310-mile (500-kilometer) Sun-synchronous orbit.

It’s first stage consists of nine Rutherford engines that produce a total of 34,500 pounds (162 kilonewtons) of thrust at liftoff. Its second stage has a single vacuum-optimized version of the Rutherford design to produce 5,000 pounds (22 kilonewtons) of thrust.

Rocket Lab said it can tailor the Electron to specific customer requirements including a range of Sun-synchronous altitudes in circular or elliptical orbits at inclinations between 39 and 98 degrees.

Additionally, the company said it has the ability to launch every week due to the vertically integrated manufacturing of the Electron vehicle in Huntington Beach, California. To support that capability, Rocket Lab said it plans to produce 100 3-D printed Rutherford engines every month for 2018.

 

 

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Heather Smith's fascination for space exploration – started at the tender age of twelve while she was on a sixth-grade field trip in Kenner, Louisiana, walking through a mock-up of the International Space Station and seeing the “space potty” (her terminology has progressed considerably since that time) – she realized at this point that her future lay in the stars. Smith has come to realize that very few people have noticed how much spaceflight technology has improved their lives. She has since dedicated herself to correcting this problem. Inspired by such classic literature as Anne Frank’s Diary, she has honed her writing skills and has signed on as The Spaceflight Group’s coordinator for the organization’s social media efforts.

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