Rocket Lab, a new entrant to the space-access market, conducted the first flight test of its ground-launched Electron rocket May 25.
During the test, the two-stage, 17-meter-high rocket lifted off from the company’s launch site on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand at 4:20 p.m. local time. Minutes later, the Electron reached space. Although the rocket did not make it into orbit, the company declared the test a success overall.
“It was a great flight,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s founder and chief executive officer. “We had a great first-stage burn, stage separation, second-stage ignition and fairing separation. 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.”
Bill Ostrove, an aerospace/defense analyst at Forecast International, called the test a major step for Rocket Lab and the industry overall.
“Even though it wasn’t a complete success,” Ostrove said, “it did demonstrate that the company can build and launch a rocket. The launch also provides engineers with data they can use to improve equipment and operations going forward.”
Rocket Lab plans to conduct two more flight tests this year. It aims to reach orbit on the next test, which will occur “in the next couple of months,” the company said.
Rocket Lab, which is based in Huntington Beach, Calif., and Auckland, New Zealand, ultimately plans to deliver small satellites to low Earth orbit and launch more than 50 times a year. It says that NASA, Spire, Planet, Moon Express and Spaceflight have already signed up as customers.
Rocket Lab is one of several companies vying for a share of the small-satellite launcher business. Earlier this month, Tucson, Ariz.-based Vector Space Systems flew its 13-meter-high Vector-R rocket for the first time. Virgin Orbit, of Long Beach, Calif., plans to fly its air-launched LauncherOne rocket for the first time late this year or early next year.