Electron (rocket)

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Electron rocket logo.svg
Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 (Sept 2016).jpg
The Mahia launch site under construction in 2016
Function Orbital launch vehicle
Manufacturer Rocket Lab
Country of origin United States[1][2]
Cost per launch less than US$6 million[3]
Height 17 m (56 ft)[4]
Diameter 1.2 m (3 ft 11 in)[4]
Mass 10,500 kg (23,100 lb)[4]
Stages 2–3[4][5]
Payload to 500 km SSO[4] 150–225 kg (330–495 lb)[4]
Associated rockets
Comparable Shavit, Kaituozhe-1, Unha
Launch history
Status Active
Launch sites
Total launches 2
Successes 1
Failures 1
First flight 25 May 2017
Last flight 21 January 2018
First stage
Diameter 1.2 m (3 ft 11 in)[4]
Engines 9 × Rutherford[4]
Thrust Sea level: 162 kN (36,000 lbf)[4]
Vacuum: 192 kN (43,000 lbf)[4]
Specific impulse 303 seconds (2.97 km/s)[4]
Fuel RP-1/LOX[4]
Second stage
Diameter 1.2 m (3 ft 11 in)[4]
Engines 1 × Rutherford[4]
Thrust Vacuum: 22 kN (4,900 lbf)[4]
Specific impulse 333 seconds (3.27 km/s)[4]
Fuel RP-1/LOX[4]
Third stage (optional)
Engines 1 × Curie[5]
Thrust Vacuum: 0.12 kN (27 lbf)[5]
Fuel unspecified "green" monopropellant

Electron is a two-stage orbital expendable launch vehicle (with an optional third stage) developed by the American aerospace company Rocket Lab to cover the commercial small satellite launch segment (CubeSats).[6] Its Rutherford engines, manufactured in California, are the first electric-pump-fed engine to power an orbital rocket.[7]

In December 2016, Electron completed flight qualification. The first rocket was launched on 25 May 2017,[8] reaching space but not achieving orbit due to a glitch in communication equipment on the ground.[9] During its second flight on 21 January 2018, Electron reached orbit and deployed three CubeSats.[10] The first commercial launch of Electron, and the third launch overall, is expected to occur in November 2018.[11]


Electron uses two stages with the same diameter (1.2 m, 3 ft 11 in) filled with RP-1/LOX propellant. The main body of the rocket is constructed using a lightweight carbon composite material.[12]

Both stages use the innovative Rutherford rocket engine, the first electric-pump-fed engine to power an orbital rocket.[7] There are nine Rutherford engines on the first stage and one vacuum-optimized version on the second stage.[13][14][15] The first stage engines deliver 162 kN (36,000 lbf) of force and the second stage delivers 22 kN (4,900 lbf) of force. Almost all of the engines' parts are 3D printed to save time and money in the manufacturing process.[7][12]

Rocket Lab has also developed an optional third stage designed to circularize the orbits of its satellite payloads. This "kick" stage employs a new rocket engine, named Curie, that is capable of performing multiple burns, uses an unspecified "green" monopropellant, and is 3D printed. It was first used during Electron's second flight.[16]

Intended usage[edit]

Electron is designed to launch a 150 to 225 kg (330 to 495 lb) payload to a 500 km (310 mi) Sun-synchronous orbit, suitable for CubeSats and other small payloads.[4][17] The cost is less than US$6 million,[3] a price point that the company hopes will allow it to attract one hundred launches per year.[6][3][18][19][20][21] In October 2018 Rocket Lab opened a factory large enough to produce more than 50 rockets per year according to the company.[22] Customers may choose to encapsulate their spacecraft in payload fairings provided by the company, which can be easily attached to the rocket shortly before launch.[23]

The price for delivering up to 150 kg to a 500 km Sun-synchronous orbit is about $5 million per launch, which offers the only dedicated service at this price point.[24]

Moon Express contracted to launch a lunar lander on an Electron to compete for the Google Lunar X Prize.[25] None of the contenders met the prize deadline, but the launch remains scheduled.[26]

Launch sites[edit]

The rocket is launched from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand.[12] The launch pad's remote and sparsely populated location is intended to enable a high frequency of launches.[12] The rocket and launch pad were both privately funded, the first time all parts of an orbital launch operation were entirely run by the private sector (other private spaceflight companies lease launch facilities from government agencies or only launch suborbital rockets).[12][17]

In October 2018, Rocket Lab selected the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at the Wallops Flight Facility as its future secondary launch site in the United States. The first launches from Wallops are planned in the third quarter of 2019.[27]

Additionally, the UK Space Agency is giving Highlands and Islands Enterprise the opportunity to develop an Electron launch pad on the A' Mhòine Peninsula in Sutherland, Scotland.[28]

Launch statistics[edit]

The Electron has flown two times over two years. There has been one success and one failure. The initial test flight, called "It's a Test", failed due to a glitch in communication equipment on the ground, but the follow-up mission, called "Still Testing", became the first successful flight.

  •   Failure
  •   Success
  •   Scheduled

Launch history[edit]

Flight № Date/time
Launch site Payload Customer Destination Outcome
1 25 May 2017, 04:20[29] Mahia LC-1 "It's a Test" Rocket Lab (flight test) LEO Failure
The rocket successfully launched and performed first stage separation and fairing separation. After reaching an altitude of about 224 km (140 mi), the telemetry feed to the range safety officer was lost and the rocket was destroyed by range safety.[30][31] Post-flight analysis determined the issue to be a ground equipment failure rather than a problem with the rocket.[32]
2 21 January 2018, 01:43[33] Mahia LC-1
LEO Success
Carrying CubeSats for Planet Labs and Spire Global.[35] Between December 2017 and January 2018 the launch was delayed six times due to weather, orbital traffic, rocket, and range safety issues.[36][37][38][10]

Future launches[edit]

Launch site Payload Planned
November 2018[11] Mahia LC-1[39][40]
  • Spire Global
  • GeoOptics
  • Irvine CubeSat STEM Program
  • High Performance Space Structure Systems
The launch window for the first commercial launch of the Electron opened on 20 April[40] but was delayed after unusual behavior was identified in a motor controller during a wet dress rehearsal. The next launch window was from 23 June to 6 July.[42] Scrubbed due to a ground tracking antenna issue in the Chatham Island tracking station on 23 June.[43] Scrubbed 26 June due to a motor controller issue.[44] The flight was indefinitely postponed 28 June 2018 to fix "process issue with production" of a motor controller.[45]
December 2018[11] Mahia LC-1 LEO NASA[46]
Multiple CubeSats for the NASA-sponsored ELaNa-19 mission[46]
2019[47] Mahia LC-1
  • Outerspace 1[48]
  • ISILaunch mission
2019[47] Mahia LC-1 BlackSky Global 4[49] LEO BlackSky Global
2019[47] Mahia LC-1
  • Outerspace 2
  • Outerspace 3[48]
LEO Outernet
2019[47] Mahia LC-1 Flock-x × 20-25[50] LEO Planet Labs
2019[47] Mahia LC-1 SpaceBEE × 4[51] LEO Swarm Technology
2019[47] Mahia LC-1 Moon
MX-1E lunar lander, originally an entry for the Google Lunar X Prize, now intended for commercial Moon missions.[54][55]
2019[47] Mahia LC-1 MX-1E Flight 2 Moon Moon Express
MX-1E lunar lander[54]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Berger, Eric (17 October 2018). "Rocket Lab Gets Second Launch Site Gears Up for Rapid Flight Cadence". Ars Technica. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  2. ^ Botsford End, Rae (2 May 2015). "Rocket Lab: the Electron, the Rutherford, and why Peter Beck started it in the first place". Spaceflight Insider. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  3. ^ a b c Mann, Adam (6 December 2017). "Rocket Lab poised to provide dedicated launcher for CubeSat science". Science. Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "Electron". Rocket Lab. Retrieved 24 July 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Bennett, Jay (23 January 2018). "Rocket Lab Reveals Secret Engine and "Kick Stage" for the Electron Rocket". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Electron". Rocket Lab. March 2016. Archived from the original on 17 July 2016. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  7. ^ a b c Grush, Loren (14 April 2015). "A 3D-Printed, Battery-Powered Rocket Engine". Popular Science. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  8. ^ "New Zealand space launch is first from a private site". BBC News. 25 May 2017. Retrieved 26 May 2017.
  9. ^ "New Zealand test rocket makes it to space but not into orbit". Independent.ie. Associated Press. 25 May 2017. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  10. ^ a b Ryan, Holly (21 January 2018). "Blast off! Rocket Lab successfully reaches orbit". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  11. ^ a b c Foust, Jeff (7 August 2018). "Rocket Lab plans return to flight in November". SpaceNews. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  12. ^ a b c d e Smyth, Jamie (21 January 2018). "Private group in 'world first' cheap rocket launch". Financial Times. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  13. ^ Brügge, Norbert. "Electron NLV". B14643.de. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  14. ^ Brügge, Norbert. "Electron Propulsion". B14643.de. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  15. ^ "Propulsion". Rocket Lab. Archived from the original on 19 September 2016. Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  16. ^ Foust, Jeff (23 January 2018). "Rocket Lab launch also tested new kick stage". SpaceNews. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  17. ^ a b Cofield, Calla (26 September 2016). "Rocket Lab Opens Private Orbital Launch Site in New Zealand". Space.com. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  18. ^ "Rocket Lab Introduction" (PDF). Rocket Lab. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 September 2016. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  19. ^ Bradley, Grant (15 April 2015). "Rocket Lab unveils world's first battery rocket engine". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
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  29. ^ Clark, Stephen (25 May 2017). "Maiden flight of Rocket Lab's small satellite launcher reaches space". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
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  33. ^ Clark, Stephen (21 January 2018). "Rocket Lab delivers nanosatellites to orbit on first successful test launch". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
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  36. ^ Reidy, Madison (11 December 2017). "Rocket Lab launch cancelled six minutes into window". Stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
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  44. ^ Gebhardt, Chris (26 June 2018). "Rocket Lab scrubs latest attempt at first operational Electron launch with five payload elements". NASASpaceFlight.com. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
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  54. ^ a b Krebs, Gunter. "MX-1E 1, 2, 3". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 14 August 2017.
  55. ^ Berger, Eric (12 July 2017). "Private company plans to bring Moon rocks back to Earth in three years". Ars Technica.

External links[edit]