Spaceflight Insider

Electron soars to orbit on Rocket Lab’s “Still Testing” flight

Rocket-Lab-Still-Testing-launch-21-January-2018 Photo Credit Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab successfully launched its second Electron rocket on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab

On Sunday, January 21, at 2:43 p.m. NZDT (01:43 GMT), Rocket Lab successfully completed the second test flight of the company’s Electron rocket from their own Launch Complex 1 on the Māhia Peninsula in New Zealand.

The test, simply called “Still Testing,” was previously slated for December 2017, but after exhausting most of their 10-day launch window, Rocket Lab postponed until this month.
The new 9-day launch window officially opened at 2:30 p.m. New Zealand Time (01:30 GMT) on January 20, 2018. Each day permitted a four-hour window for the launch attempt. The first day of the window, weather concerns and two “rogue” boats in the water caused enough delays that a scrub was called. Fortunately for the company, that was the only scrub day this time around.
Liftoff occured shortly after the launch window opened on the second day. At about two and a half minutes into the flight, the first stage separated successfully and the second stage, powered by a variant of Rocket Lab’s Rutherford engine that’s designed for the vacuum of space, ignited as intended. At about three minutes, the carbon-composite payload fairing separated correctly. The vehicle reached orbit about eight minutes after liftoff, and the payloads were deployed successfully.
This flight, despite being a test, carried three small commercial satellites, including two weather- and ship-tracking Lemur-2 satellites for Spire Global and one Earth-imaging Dove satellite for Planet Labs. These three CubeSats all joined existing satellite constellations for their respective companies. 
The-view-from-Electron-flight-Still-Testing Photo Credit Rocket Lab

The view from Electron’s “business end” as the rocket arcs toward orbit. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab

The first stage of the Electron rocket is powered by nine Rutherford engines, designed in-house at Rocket Lab and named for New Zealand-born British physicist Ernest Rutherford. Additive manufacturing, also called 3D printing, is used to manufacture all of the engine’s primary components, which means an entire engine takes just three days to build.
Each Rutherford is capable of 4,600 pounds-force of thrust with a specific impulse of 327 seconds, and is fueled by liquid oxygen and RP-1, which is a highly refined version of kerosene. The engine’s carbon-composite tanks were specially designed in order to be compatible with the liquid oxygen. The Rutherford’s turbopump uses brushless DC motors and high-performance lithium polymer batteries instead of gas turbines, which makes the whole design simpler thermodynamically and possible to modify with software changes as necessary.
The first test flight of the Electron, called “It’s a Test,” occurred on May 25, 2017, with the launch vehicle making it to space – but not achieving orbit. The flight was terminated early due to a data loss time-out, which Rocket Lab has attributed to a problem with a third-party contractor’s telemetry equipment. The problem did not plague this second flight.
“Increased access to space will vastly improve humanity’s ability to build orbital infrastructure, such as constellations of weather- and Earth-imaging satellites. These will provide more data about our planet and enable us as a species to make informed decisions about how we better manage our impact,” said Rocket Lab founder, CEO, and CTO Peter Beck. “This test launch is a crucial next step in gathering more data from Electron so we can deliver on this future.” 

Video courtesy of Rocket Labs





Rae Botsford End is a freelance writer and editor whose primary work currently is writing technical white papers, contributing to SFI, and working on a speculative fiction novel that she hopes to have published soon. Rae wanted an opportunity to report on the various space-related events in and around Florida's Space Coast and approached SFI's founder about the possibility. Rae now covers an array of subjects for our growing website.

Reader Comments

Awesome. Congratulations

Great effort. Looking forward to many more successful missions.

Gary and Al. Isn’t this a great example of private endeavour? Just like BO, SpaceX and VG. All attempting to expand access to space and the challenges and benefits that this will lead to.

I’ve never been opposed to SpaceX, Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic (or Rocket Lab for that matter). My problem has always been sycophants who demand blind allegiance to the company they worship and to excuse everything said company does. You know, Branch Davidian types like you. People like you, who get all emotional when new space does something NASA did more than half a century ago and then try to wave that in the face of those who ask awkward questions are the same people who caused Challenger and Columbia. Neil, we all know you’re a new space Kool-Aid drinker but why don’t you show you have some (any) ability to think objectively? Why aren’t you talking about the latest delays to Crew Dragon or the fact Falcon Heavy still hasn’t conducted its static test fire or that the Google Lunar X-PRIZE is a dismal failure? The only “great example” I see here is an example of someone who snarkily lauds what he perceives to be positive and (conveniently) fails to mention all the negative. You’re as biased as you are transparent.

Hi Al. I’m glad that you are acknowledging the efforts of those companies. FWIW I don’t even know what cool-aid is but let’s look at Commercial crew. Under- funded by Congress for a number of years; Boeing also part of it and struggling just like SpaceX to adhere to NASA rules that apparently don’t apply to SLS/Orion. FH a new rocket and SpaceX making sure they’ve got it as right as possible. Also in the meantime F9 has been significantly upgraded to handle payloads originally intended for FH and only a couple of manifested payloads for FH anyway. – hardly a failure.
Google X-Prize IMO a real stretch for anyone but worth trying so yes not a success.
I’m happy to accept genuine criticism of so-called Newspace companies but at least they’re attempting to move forward. Oldspace companies not so much. NASA only through NewSpace.

Typical new spacer. It’s all “Anything NASA can do we can do better!” Until you can’t. Then it’s someone else’s fault. That kind of immature, lack of accountability is why new space can’t be taken seriously. Innovations like Pica-X. Oh, wait, Pica, which NASA gave SpaceX are thanks to OldSpace. Ignoring the fact SpaceX wouldn’t exist without NASA makes new space a disrespectful and ungrateful joke. New space is innovating because of OldSpace and NASA. As a typical new spacer you ignore that. It’s obvious you’re drunk off the Kool Aid (not sure what cool aid is other than a further expression of your ignorance) and I got better things to do than correct your lack of knowledge…

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