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Meet the new player in the commercial space race — Rocket Lab

New Zealand has never had a space program, but that could all change if everything works out well with California-based Rocket Lab and the launch of their Electron Rocket at the company’s launch facility on the Māhia Peninsula of the country’s North Island.

Rocket Lab  a U.S.-based launch service provider with a New Zealand subsidiary  will become the newe...

Rocket Lab, a U.S.-based launch service provider with a New Zealand subsidiary, will become the newest entrant into the world’s launch market with the maiden voyage of its Electron rocket.

Rocket Lab has been given a launch window of May 22 to June 3, and hopefully, weather and any technical glitches won’t be a problem. “If we get to orbit on the first flight, we will have done something most countries have never achieved,” Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab told the New Zealand Herald.

It’s looking more and more likely that Monday will be the best time for the launch, John Law of MetService said. “The winds should be pretty light particularly Sunday, Monday and towards Tuesday as well. It’s a little more changeable in the second half of that week.”

The first and only flight of Atea-1 occurred on 20 November 2009 at 14:30 NZDT from Great Mercury Is...

The first and only flight of Atea-1 occurred on 20 November 2009 at 14:30 NZDT from Great Mercury Island near the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand.

Meet the Rocket Lab Company
Founded by Peter Beck, a citizen of New Zealand, the company’s journey into the commercial space market began 11 years ago. Rocket Lab had their first foray into space three years ago with the launch of the Atea-1 suborbital sounding rocket. Its first and only flight occurred on November 20, 2009, from Great Mercury Island near the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand.

It is unfortunate that the Atea-1 rocket had no telemetry downlink, so absolutely nothing pertaining to altitude could be verified. But that won’t be a problem on the upcoming launch. In 2010, Rocket Lab was awarded an Operationally Responsive Space Office (ORS) contract from the U.S. federal government.

The contract opened the door to Rocket lab formally initiating a feasibility study into low-cost launcher systems for nanosatellites. The biggest issue that turned up was finding a suitable launch site. That is why the company developed its dedicated launch facility on the Mahia Peninsula.

As with launch locations in the United States  Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 is located on a remote ar...

As with launch locations in the United States, Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 is located on a remote area of land within New Zealand – providing increased safety and a natural barrier to curious humans.

With the goal of launching small, smartphone-sized satellites, Mahia is a great location from a geographical standpoint because it will allow for a wide range of Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO) flights to various inclinations ranging between 39 and 98 degrees being available. And it also allows for less interaction with established airline routes.

“It’s a Test” an apt name for the first Electron rocket
According to NASA, the Electron Rocket stands 17 meters (56 feet) tall, and has a diameter of 1.2 meters (3 feet 11 inches), and carries a fully-fueled mass of 10,500 kilograms (23,100 pounds). Its first stage is powered by a cluster of nine Rutherford electric engines using refined kerosene (RP-1) and liquid oxygen (LOX). Combined, they provide 34,500 pounds (15,649 kilograms) of thrust at liftoff – increasing to 41,500 pounds (18,824 kilograms) of thrust in a vacuum.

Another company - Rocket Lab s engines are constructed largely through 3D printing  specifically thr...

Another company – Rocket Lab’s engines are constructed largely through 3D printing, specifically through electron beam melting, with its main prop valves, injectors, pumps, and engine chambers all 3D printed. The entire engine printing process takes just 24 hours.

The Electron’s second stage has one Rutherford vacuum-optimized engine, and it also burns PR-1 and LOX. The Electron rocket is designed to place a 150 kilogram (330 pounds) payload into a 500 kilometer (310 miles) SSO. Interestingly, although the rocket is being launched from New Zealand, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had to issue the U.S.-based company its launch license for “It’s A Test.”

The biggest and best selling point for using Rocket Lab for small satellites is the cost – About $5.0 million, a tiny fraction of a typical rocket launch. This is because the company is keeping costs low by using lightweight, disposable rockets with 3D-printed engines. Now, that is a real first.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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