AMS Spring 2023

Partially 3D Printed Rocket Lab Electron Vehicle Successfully Reaches Orbit and Deploys Payloads

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For as long as humans have been self aware, they have been pondering the future. The visions generally seem to run along one of two tracks. The first is a vision of bleak despair, a post-apocolyptic Mad Max/Water World type of world, in which everything has gone to hell in a handbasket because of humanity’s inability to behave itself appropriately and so now we’re all destined to live amid medieval squalor and constant violence. The second vision, and the one that is certainly more fun at parties, is the Jetsons made real, complete with flying cars, robot assistants, teleportation, and colonies on the moon.

Rocket Lab Electron ‘Still Testing’ leaves the pad at LC-1

Keeping in mind that we are living in the time when people thought we’d already have flying cars and yet we are still having to warn our children not to eat laundry detergent, it can be tempting to imagine we’re headed toward a great abyss. Especially for those of us who are a bit older and are starting to enter the ‘things were better when I was young’ phase of our lives. However, in terms of career opportunities, while people with the first type of future vision for the future may find themselves in a line of work involving wearing a sandwich board and shouting ‘the end is nigh’, those with the second kind of vision are now the founders and CEOs of organizations such as Rocket Lab.

Earth, as seen by Electron flight ‘Still Testing’

Peter Beck believed strongly enough in a vision of the future in which technology bettered the human experience that in 2006 he created Rocket Lab, a company whose mission is “to remove the barriers to commercial space by providing frequent launch opportunities to low Earth orbit.” This isn’t just something he woke up one morning and decided to do because space seemed cool. Beck brings with him 15 years of propulsion development and is a lauded scientist and engineer, having received the Meritorious Medal from the Royal Aeronautical Society for service of an exceptional nature and been recognized as the New Zealander of the Year in 2015.

Since its founding, the company has been making headlines, particularly in 2017 when their 3D printed Rutherford engine and Electron Rocket Launch System, appropriately named “It’s a Test”, was fired from their own commercial launch pad, although it didn’t reach orbit. Now, the company is garnering international attention again as they have just successfully launched their second Electron orbital launch vehicle, bearing the name “Still Testing,”  and this one did make orbit, marking a first for New Zealand, as the country has no national space program.

The company isn’t simply launching these vehicles for the pure pleasure of doing so, though there can be no denying that this is something they enjoy, but rather as ways of advancing the goal of opening space up for commercial enterprise. As Beck explained:

“Today marks the beginning of a new era in commercial access to space. We’re thrilled to reach this milestone so quickly after our first test launch…Reaching orbit on a second test flight is significant on its own, but successfully deploying customer payloads so early in a new rocket program is almost unprecedented. Rocket Lab was founded on the principal of opening access to space to better understand our planet and improve life on it. Today, we took a significant step towards that.”

Electron ‘Still Testing’ at LC-1 with VP of Launch, Shaun D’Mello

The next phase for Rocket Lab is to analyze the data gathered during this second launch and use it to understand how to build upon this success. Currently, there are a further five Electron vehicles in production and the company estimates that when they reach their full production capacity, they will be launching 50 times a year. While Rocket Lab is not the only company to be engaging in this type of development, they are certainly on the forefront, and at this point, it may be time to rethink the phrase “the sky’s the limit” in terms of business in space.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Source/Images: Rocket Lab]

 

 

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