22 January, 2018
California-based company Rocket Lab said its Electron rocket Still Testing, which carried only a small payload of 150 kilograms, deployed an earth imaging satellites and two others for weather and ship tracking after blast-off from the Mahia Peninsula.
"This success should instill confidence in Rocket Lab's customers, starting a busy 2018 launch schedule".
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. Operators of tiny satellites don't have many options to get to space, and typically have to hitch rides on launches of much bigger probes.
Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck told SpaceNews that the succesful launch meant the company would move forward with commercial missions. In the coming weeks Rocket Lab engineers will analyze the data from today's launch to inform future launches.
Rocket Lab launched the first Electron rocket back in May 2017 from Launch Complex 1 on the coast of New Zealand's North Island, a mission named "It's a Test". Its Rutherford rocket engines are created by a 3D printing process.More news: Lawmakers push AT&T to stop working with Huawei
Then Rocket Lab also had some difficulty getting this second test flight off the ground.
In December, Electron missed its 10-day window after delays from weather and a last second abort.
Shortly afterwards, Rocket Lab announced it would be suspending launch attempts until early 2018.
The flight will be the company's second and will carry small Earth-imaging satellites for United States companies Planet Labs and Spire Global. The company tried to launch the first day of the window, but ultimately had to delay until Sunday in New Zealand, when the Electron finally took flight. In theory, the successful Electron flight places the completion of a lunar mission by the deadline for Moon Express inside the realm of possibility.
"Very nice launch. My heartiest congratulations to the Rocket Lab team". They're thrilled to reach this milestone so quickly after their first test launch.