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posted by martyb on Thursday December 07, @09:13PM   Printer-friendly
from the competition++ dept.

Rocket Lab to launch second orbital-class rocket as soon as next week

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket is designed to carry small satellites to orbit, targeting a market niche microsatellite owners say is currently under-served by larger, more expensive boosters. Using nine first stage engines and a single upper stage powerplant, the rocket can deliver up to 330 pounds (150 kilograms) of payload to at 310-mile-high (500-kilometer) sun-synchronous polar orbit.

The upcoming launch will be the second by an Electron rocket. The Electron's inaugural test flight May 25 reached space after a successful first stage burn and second stage ignition, but a data reception error with ground tracking equipment prompted an early termination of the mission for safety reasons.

[...] Backed by U.S. and New Zealand venture capital funds, and investment from the New Zealand government and U.S. aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, Rocket Lab says it will sell future Electron rocket missions for $4.9 million per flight. The Electron is sized to provide a dedicated ride for small satellites that today must ride piggyback on bigger launchers.

Rocket Lab.

According to SpaceFlightNow's Launch Schedule: "Launch window: 0130-0530 GMT on 8th (8:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. EST on 7th/8th)

Previously: Rocket Lab Unveils "Electric" Rocket Engine
Moon Express and Rocket Lab Team Up for 2017 Lunar Mission
New Companies Begin to Target the Micro-Satellite Market
"Planet" Purchases 3 Launches from "Rocket Lab"
Rocket Lab Makes Suborbital Launch From New Zealand

Related: Vector Space Completes First Test Flight, Hoping to Expand the Small Satellite Launch Market
Vector Space Systems Partners With Virginia Space for Launches


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Related Stories

Rocket Lab Unveils "Electric" Rocket Engine 16 comments

The New Zealand based commercial space company Rocket Lab has unveiled their new rocket engine which the media is describing as battery-powered. It still uses fuel, of course, but has an entirely new propulsion cycle which uses electric motors to drive its turbopumps.

To add to the interest over the design, it uses 3D printing for all its primary components. First launch is expected this year, with commercial operations commencing in 2016.

Moon Express and Rocket Lab Team Up for 2017 Lunar Mission 6 comments

Space startup Moon Express has signed a contract with Rocket Lab to help carry out three lunar missions starting in 2017. Described as the first private contract between two companies to carry out a lunar landing, the agreement will see Rocket Lab provide launch services using its Electron rocket system for the Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander as part of Moon Express's attempt win the Google Lunar Xprize.

The contract stipulates that Rocket Lab will provide services for two launches of the MX-1 lander in 2017 and a third at a date yet to be determined. These will be conducted from either Rocket Lab's New Zealand facilities or an American launch site. The Moon Express MX-1 lander is a scalable 600 kg (1,320 lb) spacecraft that can be sent to the Moon either directly or using low-energy trajectories. Its purpose is not only to conduct scientific missions, but also to deliver commercial payloads to the lunar surface at lower costs.

Life imitates art.


Original Submission

New Companies Begin to Target the Micro-Satellite Market 19 comments

While SpaceX prepares its Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, newer companies are targeting smaller payloads:

[Aerospace veteran Jim] Cantrell left SpaceX in 2002, seeing the venture as too risky and unlikely to turn a profit. (It succeeded, he said, because Musk could not conceive of failure). However, even as SpaceX has become a dominant player in the large satellite launch industry, the small satellite industry has grown rapidly. The miniaturization of communications and imaging satellites has led to a new generation of rocket companies, such as Firefly Space Systems and Rocket Lab, which have built smaller launchers. Their rockets will generally heft payloads larger than 100kg into Sun-synchronous orbits 500km or higher.

Even with the rise of cubesats and other smaller technologies, payloads have continued to shrink. Over the last decade, Cantrell has watched this trend, seeing an opportunity to jump back into the launch business with a nano-satellite rocket. In late 2015, he called John Garvey, whose company Garvey Spacecraft Corporation had been working on such a rocket, and together they decided to found a new company called Vector. The company is developing a rocket with a reusable first stage that can deliver up to 25kg to a 400km Sun-synchronous orbit. Because of the groundwork already done by Garvey, Cantrell said Vector could begin orbital flights in 2018.

Also at TechCrunch.


Original Submission

"Planet" Purchases 3 Launches from "Rocket Lab" 6 comments

From the LA Times:

The launch manifest for Los Angeles-based Rocket Lab is starting to fill up. The small-satellite launch company said Tuesday that it has signed an agreement with Earth-imaging satellite firm Planet for three dedicated launches on its Electron rocket.

The launches will take place from the company's Mahia Penninsula launch site.

SpaceNews reports:

[...] each launch will carry is still being determined, but will likely be between 20 and 25. Each Dove is a three-unit cubesat with a mass of about five kilograms.

The schedule for the launches will depend on the development of Electron, which has yet to make its first flight. Safyan said that if the Electron test program goes well, the first Planet launch, likely to sun-synchronous orbit, could be as soon as the second quarter of 2017.

Although the terms of the deal weren't announced, Rocket Lab quotes a price of about $5 million (USD) per launch for the Electron.


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Vector Space Completes First Test Flight, Hoping to Expand the Small Satellite Launch Market 6 comments

Is there room for launch companies smaller than the United Launch Alliance and SpaceX?

Vector Space Systems successfully launched a full-scale model of its Vector-R rocket on Wednesday in Mojave, California. The test flight, which remained under 50,000 feet for regulatory purposes, allows the company to remain on track to begin providing launch services for small satellites in 2018, said Jim Cantrell, the company's chief executive and cofounder.

The Arizona-based rocket company is one of a handful of competitors racing to the launch pad to provide lower-cost access to space for small satellites. These satellites are generally under 500kg in mass and often much smaller (the industry trend is toward smaller, lighter, more capable satellites). The Vector-R rocket will eventually be capable of launching a payload of up to 45kg to an orbit of 800km above the Earth. Other companies trying to reach this market include US-based Virgin Orbit and New Zealand-based Rocket Lab. Neither company has begun commercial launches.

[...] The market seems ready for micro-launchers. For now, smaller payloads must typically "share" rides to space on larger rockets, and they cannot count on a launch date. Instead of being treated as excess cargo, Vector intends to offer these small satellites the capability to launch within three months of demand. Vector will launch these small payloads into any desired orbit from Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska or Cape Canaveral in Florida. Launch costs will range from $2 million to $3 million.

Also at NASASpaceFlight.


Original Submission

Rocket Lab Makes Suborbital Launch From New Zealand 12 comments

"Made it to space. Team delighted. More to follow!" the U.S. company, founded by New Zealander Peter Beck, tweeted at 4:29 p.m. New Zealand time Thursday. It is the first test of the company's Electron Rocket from New Zealand, a country of just 4.7 million people deep in the South Pacific.

Rocket Lab aims to build a New Zealand base from which to launch small satellites into low orbit. The country is considered a prime location because rockets originating deep in the Southern Hemisphere can reach a wide range of Earth orbits.

[...] With a height of 17 meters and a diameter of 1.2 meters, and 3D-printed engines, the Electron Rocket is capable of carrying a maximum payload of 225 kilograms, according to Rocket Lab, whose investors include Lockheed Martin Corp.

Bloomberg

Related stories:
Vector Space Completes First Test Flight, Hoping to Expand the Small Satellite Launch Market
"Planet" Purchases 3 Launches from "Rocket Lab"
New Companies Begin to Target the Micro-Satellite Market
Moon Express and Rocket Lab Team Up for 2017 Lunar Mission
Rocket Lab Unveils "Electric" Rocket Engine


Original Submission

Vector Space Systems Partners With Virginia Space for Launches 8 comments

Vector, Virginia Space announce upcoming orbital launches from Wallops

This past week, it was announced that nanosatellite launch service provider Vector had inked a deal with the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (more commonly known as Virginia Space) to conduct three commercial flights out of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) over the course of the next two years with possibly five additional launches in the offing.

The agreement was announced by Virginia State Governor Terry McAuliffe with an "engineering unit" of the company's Vector-R launch vehicle being transported from the company's headquarters located in Tucson, Arizona, to MARS. Along for the journey was a Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) – used to erect the rocket into the vertical position.

Vector will also conduct a series of ground and simulated propellant loading operations with the engineering unit and TEL.

Vector is hoping to launch satellites at a cost of $2-3 million per launch using the Vector-R rocket.

MARS is a pretty bad name for a spaceport in Virginia.

Wallops Flight Facility.


Original Submission

Rocket Lab's Second "Electron" Rocket Launch Succeeds, Reaches Orbit 10 comments

After a failure to reach orbit last year and several delays, Rocket Lab has successfully launched an Electron rocket into orbit:

Rocket Lab has returned to action with the second launch of its Electron rocket from the Māhia Peninsula from the North Island of New Zealand's eastern coast. Several attempts to launch at the end of last year were scrubbed before regrouping for a new attempt – which was also scrubbed, due to a wayward boat, a technical issue and then the weather – before finally launching at 01:43 UTC on Sunday and appears to have been a success.

Much like Vector Space – which is currently in small-scale suborbital testing with aims to enter the launch market next year – Rocket Lab caters to much the same market, offering small satellite users a dedicated launch system to eliminate ride-sharing requirements on the larger, more established launchers.

According to the company's website, Rocket Lab lists its launch services with Electron as costing $4.9 million (USD) per flight.

Three cubesats were deployed.

Rocket Lab has two more upcoming launches planned for Q1 2018, including a lunar lander for Moon Express. The Electron rocket will deliver the Moon Express payload into low-Earth orbit, where the lander will use its own thrusters to get to the Moon:

Once in low-Earth orbit, the MX-1E will need to complete a translunar injection (TLI) burn, cruise through space, conduct a breaking[sic] burn to enter lunar orbit, and finally complete descent and landing burns—all by itself. It would be an unprecedented accomplishment, a single-stage spacecraft that can make it all the way to the surface of the moon from low-Earth orbit.

How will a cheap disposable rocket fare against reusable rockets?

Also at Wired.


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