Rocket Lab completes flight qualification of Electron first stage
Less than three months after finishing its private space launch site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula, U.S.-based Rocket Lab announced flight qualification and acceptance of the company’s Electron booster has been completed.
Qualification completion was announced Dec. 13, 2016. The company plans to begin full vehicle testing in early 2017, as soon as international launch licensing is complete. These tests will occur at its recently completed Launch Complex 1.
“We will continue to test the vehicle extensively in the lead-up to commercial operations and are looking forward to beginning the test flight program,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab CEO. “Our focus with the Electron has been to develop a reliable launch vehicle that can be manufactured in high volumes – our ultimate goal is to make space accessible by providing an unprecedented frequency of launch opportunities.”
Rocket Lab designed all the main components of the first stage in-house, which includes the engines, vehicle structures, avionics, and software systems.
The Electron is a small two-stage rocket. It uses nine regeneratively cooled liquid oxygen and kerosene-powered Rutherford engines on the first stage in a similar arrangement to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 (eight engines circling a single center engine). The second stage has a single Rutherford vacuum engine.
The 56-foot (17-meter) tall rocket can launch about 330 pounds (150 kilograms) to a 310-mile (500-kilometer) Sun-synchronous orbit. The goal is to send small satellites, even CubeSats into space for a projected total per-launch cost of less than $5 million.
Launch Complex 1 was completed in late September 2016. It has a 30-year license to launch rockets every 72 hours, which if successful would be the highest frequency of orbital flights in history. The company wants to launch upwards of 120 times each year.
The complex includes a vehicle processing hangar for Electron rockets to be prepared before flight and a 45-metric-ton launch platform and tower.
After the testing of the rocket is complete, sometime late next year (2017), one of the first customers is expected to be the Google Lunar X-Prize contender Moon Express. The rocket will send the MX-1 lunar lander toward the Moon.
Video courtesy of Rocket Lab
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.