Rocket Lab and its 3D Printed Rockets Look Toward a Prolific Future

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Rocket Lab New Premesis Imagery, Auckland, 11 October 2018. [Image: William Booth / www.photosport.nz]

Rocket Lab started off 2018 with quite a bang, launching its partially 3D printed Electron rocket from its New Zealand launch site in January. This was the second launch and first successful orbital mission for the rocket, and the company is now gearing up to launch many more rockets – a couple more this year, and then 16 next year. Earlier this month, Rocket Lab opened a second rocket development lab and production facility in Auckland, New Zealand, and this week the company announced the location of its second launch site, which will be in Wallops Island, Virginia. Rocket Lab hopes to have the site operational in about a year.

“For us, the first big step was getting to orbit,” said Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck. “We succeeded with that. The next big step is scaling facilities to meet demand. We’re not focusing on the next rocket. We’re focusing on the next 100 rockets.”

Rocket Lab New Premesis Imagery, Auckland, 11 October 2018. [Image: William Booth / www.photosport.nz]

For the remainder of 2018, however, Rocket Lab is focusing on the next two rockets. Its first full commercial mission, dubbed It’s Business Time, is scheduled to launch in November, and in December a flight for NASA will take off carrying 10 CubeSats.

Rocket Lab will continue to build its 3D printed Rutherford engines, as well as electronic guidance systems, at its main production facility in Southern California. The new Auckland facility will focus on building fuel tanks and rocket cores. Rockets launching from New Zealand will eventually be integrated at facilities there, and rockets launching from Virginia will be integrated there. Rocket Lab won’t be shipping entire Electron boosters across the ocean, but it will be sending components, and the two facilities combined will allow the company to build up to 52 Electron rockets per year, launching once per week.

Rocket Lab plans to invest about $20 million into the new facility at Wallops, which will be located at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. According to Beck, the company is looking at additional sites around the world as well.

The Electron rocket has a payload of 150kg to 225kg, and is boostable to a 500km sun-synchronous orbit. Rocket Lab faces stiff competition from a large number of other companies looking to deliver small payloads into outer space, but Beck believes that the company has an advantage from all that it has learned: that things like regulation, production facilities, and launch pads matter just as much if not more than the rocket itself.

“This is the thing,” he said. “It’s one thing to have a couple of hot fires and do a couple of suborbital launches and whatnot. For us, just going to orbit was a good milestone, but going to orbit once is just the start. The amount of effort that we’ve invested the last nine months, really, it’s been just extraordinary.”

Rocket Lab New Premises Imagery, Auckland, 11 October 2018. [Image: William Booth / www.photosport.nz]

Rocket Lab certainly has mustered a lot of effort, and for that fact alone, it’s likely to stay at the front of the crowd of companies jostling to get their small rockets into space. While determination alone doesn’t guarantee success, determination backed by a great deal of planning and capital is a much better bet, and Rocket Lab has shown itself to be willing and able to put forward plenty of both.

[Source: Ars Technica]

 

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