Rocket Lab, a private US-New Zealand rocket development and launch company, has announced that it will conduct the first launch of its Electron rocket within the next two weeks.
Named “It’s a Test”, Rocket Lab will open a 10-day launch window on 22 May for its first launch ever. This will be the first of three planned test launches before its first commercial launch, which is slated for the third quarter of 2017.
This is also the first time a completely privately-funded and built launch site will be used. Located on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 can accommodate up to 120 launches per year to Low Earth Orbit, and reach orbital inclinations from sun-synchronous to 39 degrees. According to the company, the Mahia launch site will be able to reduce the cost of launches and increase the commercial viability of space.
For its first test, Rocket Lab will launch Electron, a small launch vehicle with a maximum payload of 225kg, a nominal payload of 150kg, and a nominal sun-synchronous orbit of 500km.
Developed in-house, the two-stage rocket has a height of 17m and a diameter of 1.2m, and is powered by Rutherford engines. The rocket will be able to launch smallsats and cubesats, and has a “Plug-In Payload” module which decouples payload integration from the main assembly.
With a mission to “remove barriers to commercial space”, Rocket Lab offers dedicated and ride-sharing options for its clients; its rideshare option is already 90% booked for the year 2017, and its clients include NASA, Spire, Moon Express and Planet.