Rocket Lab has temporarily ceased preparations for its upcoming launch previously scheduled for the end of this month to protect its team from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the company said March 25.
The rapid-launch company, which hosts sites in New Zealand and in the United States, announced March 9 that its next mission – dubbed “Don’t Stop Me Now” – would include payloads for NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the University of New South Wales Canberra Space on the 12th launch of its Electron rocket.
But preparations for the March 30 launch in New Zealand are now on hold “to protect the health and safety of Rocket Lab team members, our families, and the wider community,” per a Wednesday company release. The decision came in response to the New Zealand government’s announcement on Monday of a “Level 4 COVID-19 response,” requiring the majority of businesses to shutter and urging citizens to stay at home.
“We commend the government for taking this drastic but necessary step to limit the spread of COVID-19,” Rocket Lab said.
The company said the majority of its team is working from home, with the exception of several essentially personnel to monitor and maintain critical systems. Recent efforts to ensure responsive launch capability by having rockets and pads ready to be called up quickly means Rocket Lab can “effectively manage a pause in production and still have vehicles available for launch as soon as conditions allow.”
“In the days, weeks, and months to come, we’ll be following the advice of the government and health authorities to protect our teams in the United States and New Zealand,” the company added.
Rocket Lab also said March 17 that NASA has awarded the company Category-1 certification. The agency determined that “Rocket Lab has demonstrated their strong commitment to maintaining a quality management system,” and added, “Rocket Lab’s management team are deliberate in ensuring processes are controlled, repeatable, and measurable to ensure mission success.” NASA is now considering Rocket Lab for Category 2 Certification, a classification that enables a launch provider to fly higher value payloads, and requires a vehicle to have performed at least six consecutive successful missions of the same configuration.
As of February 2020, Rocket Lab’s Electron vehicle has conducted 10 consecutive successful orbital missions, deploying payloads for commercial and government customers including DARPA, the Air Force, and the NRO.