Rocket Lab achieves orbit on historic launch from New Zealand

Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck says his company delivered a mysterious object into orbit during yesterday's Electron launch - but he's not revealing exactly what just yet.

The launch, in the Mahia Peninsula, has been marketed as a major advance in the space industry that will allow smaller companies to launch satellites in to space at a relative fraction of the cost. Today they took a significant step towards that.

Asked why a customer would take the risk of sending their expensvie hardware into space with a start-up company reaching orbit for the first time, Mr Beck said the reality was they were the only dedicated small-launch provider in the world now. However, Electron's maiden flight failed to successfully deposit its payload in orbit.

Before customers can start flying, Rocket Lab needed to show that the Electron could do its job, and getting to orbit was a key goal of this test.

The three miniature satellites deployed by the Electron rocket, each around the size of a shoebox, will map the Earth's surface and be used for weather and shipping systems.

The company, which has headquarters in Los Angeles as well as New Zealand, already has picked up contracts from NASA and Seattle-based Spaceflight for small-satellite launches.

Beck said Rocket Labs only limitation was a lack of staff.

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Rocket Lab boss Peter Beck is aiming to send more rockets into space next year than the United States.

Yesterday's launch followed the company's first launch last May, in which the rocket got to space but did not make it to orbit after range safety officials had to kill the flight. So New Zealand really stands alone with a technically advanced, commercially focussed launch vehicle.

Rocket Lab, which is headquartered in Los Angeles, deployed three satellites on only the second test launch of its Electron orbital launch vehicle, Still Testing.

He said the successful launch meant New Zealand was able to join what he called an exclusive club, that usually belonged to the super powers like the U.S. and Russian Federation, when it came to space activities.

Neither Rocket Lab nor Moon Express has given a date for a launch attempt.

The planned launch on Saturday was put on hold less than a minute before scheduled lift-off after a boat entered the launch-range area resulting in a manually induced hold, Rocket Lab's mission control in Auckland said.

That affordability means Rocket Lab is now able to carry out launches with some degree of regularity.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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