All week, New Zealanders have been waiting to see if their country would become the 11th one to reach outer space with a cargo-carrying vehicle. Rocket Lab’s Electron Rocket, equipped with its 3D printed Rutherford engine, was ready to launch – all that was needed was some good weather conditions. New Zealand’s weather is notoriously changeable, and on Wednesday, the rocket was about to lift off when some disagreeable weather swept in at T-12 minutes, halting the mission. Today, however, meteorological conditions cooperated, and the first Electron rocket – named “It’s a Test” – rocketed into space at 4:20 PM New Zealand time.
A lot of firsts were achieved with today’s launch. Not only was It’s a Test the first rocket launched into space by New Zealand, it was also the first battery-powered rocket in the world, fueled by the almost entirely 3D printed Rutherford engine. In addition, the rocket lifted off from Rocket Lab’s dedicated launch facility on the Mahia Peninsula, making it the first orbital-class rocket to launch from a commercial facility.
“It has been an incredible day and I’m immensely proud of our talented team,” said Peter Beck, CEO and founder of Rocket Lab. “We’re one of a few companies to ever develop a rocket from scratch and we did it in under four years. We’ve worked tirelessly to get to this point. We’ve developed everything in house, built the world’s first private orbital launch range, and we’ve done it with a small team.”
The rocket took three minutes to reach outer space, though it didn’t quite make it into orbit.
The launch was a victory for New Zealand and for small business in general. When Rocket Lab goes into full business mode, it expects to launch more than 50 times a year, and is regulated to launch up to 120 times per year. To put that into perspective, there were 22 launches from the United States last year, and 82 internationally. Rocket Lab already has numerous customers signed on, including NASA, Spire, Planet, Moon Express and Spaceflight.
“It was a great flight. We had a great first stage burn, stage separation, second stage ignition and fairing separation,” continued Beck. “We didn’t quite reach orbit and we’ll be investigating why, however reaching space in our first test puts us in an incredibly strong position to accelerate the commercial phase of our program, deliver our customers to orbit and make space open for business.”
Three test flights are scheduled for this year, with today’s being the first. The second flight will aim towards getting into orbit, and will try to maximize the rocket’s payload. The Electron will be carrying small satellites for its customers for a variety of purposes.
In the next several weeks, engineers at Rocket Lab will pore over the 25,000 data channels that were collected during today’s flight, using the results to optimize the rocket.
“We have learnt so much through this test launch and will learn even more in the weeks to come,” said Beck. “We’re committed to making space accessible and this is a phenomenal milestone in that journey. The applications doing this will open up are endless. Known applications include improved weather reporting, Internet from space, natural disaster prediction, up-to-date maritime data as well as search and rescue services.”
Below, you can see some footage taken from the Electron rocket in space:
Discuss in the Electron Rocket forum at 3DPB.com.[Images/Videos all via and copyright Rocket Lab unless otherwise noted]