Vector successfully launches first smallsat rocket
Smallsat startup Vector Space Systems launched its first engineering test vehicle May 3, 2017, from the Friends of Amateur Rocketry site in Mojave, California. The Vector-R vehicle flew on a suborbital trajectory on only its first stage, which was powered by a 5,000-pound-force (22-kilonewton) thrust engine with a 3-D-printed injector.
When operational, Vector-R is expected to send satellites up to 110 pounds (50 kilograms) to low-Earth orbit.
Vector’s team is composed of individuals who have worked at SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, McDonnell Douglas, Sea Launch, and VMware. The company is targeting the small satellite market of 44 to 440 pounds (20 to 200 kilograms), which includes small satellites and CubeSats. Its intended price point is $1.5 million to $3.5 million per launch.
The rockets themselves include a number of unique technological features, including a 3-D-printed injector, carbon-fiber structures, a reusable first stage, and an unusual mix of advanced propylene and liquid oxygen for propellant operating in pressure-fed engines. The company states that its rocket derives from the Garvey Spacecraft Corporation’s NLV-20 nanosat launch vehicle.
“2017 has already been a ground-breaking year for Vector as we continue testing full-scale vehicle engineering models to demonstrate functionality and flight operations,” said the company’s co-founder and CEO Jim Cantrell in a statement. “The success of this test not only sets the standard for the swift mobile development of our launch vehicles, but also furthers our mission to revolutionize the spaceflight industry and increase speed to orbit.”
No details about the rocket’s altitude, distance, or other performance data were released. The company expects to conduct another flight test from Spaceport Camden in Camden County, Georgia, this summer.
The company has stated that it will start flying the Vector-R rocket to orbit in 2018 and its heavier 275-pound (125-kilogram) payload Vector-H vehicle in 2019.
— Jim Cantrell (@jamesncantrell) May 3, 2017
Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.