Rocket Lab successfully reaches space on its first test

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket launched today from the North Island of New Zealand. Image courtesy of Rocket Lab.
Rocket Lab's Electron rocket launched today from the North Island of New Zealand. Image courtesy of Rocket Lab.

New Zealand based spaceflight startup Rocket Lab today successfully reached space in the first ever test launch of its Electron rocket.

The rocket, which was completely developed in-house, is a small two-stage vehicle able to carry between 150-225kg of payload into orbit.

Measuring in at 17m high, the rocket makes use of advanced materials such as carbon fiber in its structure, and contains the in-house Rutherford engine, made almost entirely from 3D printed components.

The launch, carried out at a purpose built site on the Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand’s North Island, also makes NZ only the 11th country to successfully launch a rocket into space.

“We’re one of a few companies to ever develop a rocket from scratch and we did it in under four years. We’ve worked tirelessly to get to this point,” said Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck.

“We’ve developed everything in-house, built the world’s first private orbital launch range, and we’ve done it with a small team.”

While the rocket did reach space, all did not go completely to plan. According to the company, sometime after second stage separation, the vehicle encountered a problem and failed to reach orbit.

Nonetheless, such failures for a new space vehicle are incredibly common – by contrast, SpaceX’s Falcon 1 rocket failed 3 times to reach orbit before finally achieving success.

Rocket Lab has stated that over the next few weeks, its engineers will analyze more than 25,000 data channels collected during the launch to try and learn from their mistakes and then optimize their launch vehicle.

“We have learnt so much through this test launch and will learn even more in the weeks to come,” remarked Beck.

Once this analysis has been carried out, the company has stated that it will carry out two more test launches this year, with the hope of reaching orbit, and ascertaining payload limits.

When fully operational, Rocket Lab hopes that the Electron rocket will be able to service the growing market for smallsat launches.