Space Startup Rocket Lab Has Reached Orbit For the First Time
The six-year-old startup Rocket Lab has successfully put a rocket into orbit, and deployed a payload of three satellites. The launch started from New Zealand at 2:43 Sunday afternoon, or 8:43 p.m. Saturday U.S. Eastern Time. The mission, dubbed “Still Testing,” was the second using the company’s lightweight Electron rocket.
Rocket Lab streamed its launch live, and it can still be viewed on YouTube, complete with informative commentary.
Rocket Lab aims to lower the cost of access to space, in a way parallel to, but distinct from, the mission of Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Where SpaceX seems near mastering the art of landing and reusing large rockets, Rocket Lab wants to produce smaller ones, using lower-cost methods like 3-D printing.
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Those smaller rockets — including the current Electron model — are meant to serve the growing demand for deployment of small satellites known as microsats or cubesats. According to the Wall Street Journal, Rocket Lab is aiming to double its rocket production by this summer to meet that demand.
The payload for the launch, according to SpaceNews, included two cubesats for the data company Spire and one for Planet Labs. Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck told SpaceNews that the succesful launch meant the company would move forward with commercial missions.