Electron (rocket)

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Electron rocket logo.svg
Electron Orthographic.png
FunctionOrbital launch vehicle
ManufacturerRocket Lab
Country of originNew Zealand[1] and United States[2][3] [4]
Cost per launchAbout US$6 million[5]
Height17 m (56 ft)[6]
Diameter1.2 m (3 ft 11 in)[6]
Mass12,500 kg (27,600 lb)[7]
Payload to 500 km SSO[6]150–225 kg (330–495 lb)[6]
Associated rockets
ComparableShavit, Kaituozhe-1, Unha, Prime
Launch history
Launch sites
Total launches3
First flight25 May 2017
Last flight11 November 2018
First stage
Diameter1.2 m (3 ft 11 in)[6]
Engines9 × Rutherford[6]
ThrustSea level: 162 kN (36,000 lbf)[6]
Vacuum: 192 kN (43,000 lbf)[6]
Specific impulse303 seconds (2.97 km/s)[6]
Second stage
Diameter1.2 m (3 ft 11 in)[6]
Engines1 × Rutherford[6]
ThrustVacuum: 22 kN (4,900 lbf)[6]
Specific impulse333 seconds (3.27 km/s)[6]
Third stage (optional)
Engines1 × Curie[8]
ThrustVacuum: 0.12 kN (27 lbf)[8]
Fuelunspecified "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).[10] Its Rutherford engines, manufactured in California, are the first electric-pump-fed engine to power an orbital rocket.[11]

In December 2016, Electron completed flight qualification. The first rocket was launched on 25 May 2017,[12] reaching space but not achieving orbit due to a glitch in communication equipment on the ground.[13] During its second flight on 21 January 2018, Electron reached orbit and deployed three CubeSats.[14] The first commercial launch of Electron, and the third launch overall, occurred on 11 November 2018.[15]


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.[16]

Both stages use the innovative Rutherford rocket engine, the first electric-pump-fed engine to power an orbital rocket.[11] There are nine Rutherford engines on the first stage and one vacuum-optimized version on the second stage.[17][18][19] 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.[11][16]

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.[20]

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.[6][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 $6 million per launch, which offers the only dedicated service at this price point.[5][10][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 Mahia launch site under construction in 2016

The rocket is launched from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand.[16] The launch pad's remote and sparsely populated location is intended to enable a high frequency of launches.[16] 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).[16][21]

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] The location would be named Sutherland spaceport.

Launch history[edit]

The Electron has flown three times since May 2017. There have been two successes 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 missions, called "Still Testing" and "It's Business Time", delivered multiple small payloads to low Earth orbit.

  •   Failure
  •   Success
  •   Scheduled

Past launches[edit]

Flight № Date/time
Launch site Payload Destination Customer Outcome
1 25 May 2017, 04:20[29] Mahia LC-1 "It's a Test" LEO Rocket Lab (flight test) 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][14]
3 11 November 2018, 03:51 Mahia LC-1[39][40]
  • Spire Global
  • GeoOptics
  • Irvine CubeSat STEM Program
  • High Performance Space Structure Systems
  • Fleet Space Technologies
The 11 November 2018 launch was successful; all cubesats planned to be deployed were deployed in orbit. The launch, originally planned for April 2018, had been delayed several times: to June/July after unusual behavior was identified in a motor controller during a wet dress rehearsal,[40][42] by a few days after a ground tracking antenna issue in the Chatham Island tracking station[44] and indefinitely after another motor controller issue.[45][46] In October a nine day launch window was announced starting November 11.[47]

Future launches[edit]

Launch site Payload Planned
December 2018[48] Mahia LC-1 LEO NASA[49]
Multiple CubeSats for the NASA-sponsored ELaNa-19 mission[49]
2019[50] Mahia LC-1
2019[50] Mahia LC-1 BlackSky Global 4[52] LEO BlackSky Global
2019[50] Mahia LC-1
  • Outerspace 2
  • Outerspace 3[51]
LEO Outernet
2019[50] Mahia LC-1 Flock-x × 20-25[53] LEO Planet Labs
2019[50] Mahia LC-1 SpaceBEE × 4[54] LEO Swarm Technology
2019[50] Mahia LC-1 Moon
MX-1E lunar lander, originally an entry for the Google Lunar X Prize, now intended for commercial Moon missions.[57][58]
2019[50] Mahia LC-1 MX-1E Flight 2 Moon Moon Express
MX-1E lunar lander[57]
2019[59] Mahia LC-1 KSM 1-x LEO Kleos Space
2019[59] Mahia LC-1
  • CE-SAT 1 Mk.2
  • CE-SAT 2
LEO Canon Electronics
2019[59] Mahia LC-1 ICEYE X3 LEO ICEYE
2019[59] Mahia LC-1 MCNAIR LEO Akash Systems Inc.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Rocket Lab Celebrates Rich Ten-Year History". Rocket Lab USA. June 30, 2016.
  2. ^ Berger, Eric (17 October 2018). "Rocket Lab Gets Second Launch Site Gears Up for Rapid Flight Cadence". Ars Technica. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "Rocket Lab Electron 'Its a Test' flight successfully makes it to space". Rocket Lab. May 25, 2017.
  5. ^ a b Mann, Adam (6 December 2017). "Rocket Lab poised to provide dedicated launcher for CubeSat science". Science. Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Electron". Rocket Lab. Retrieved 24 July 2017.
  7. ^ "Rocket Lab Electron Data Sheet". Space Launch Report. November 2018. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ site selected as launch base for Lockheed Martin, Orbex. Stephen Clark, Spaceflight Now. 16 July 2018.
  10. ^ a b "Electron". Rocket Lab. March 2016. Archived from the original on 17 July 2016. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  11. ^ a b c Grush, Loren (14 April 2015). "A 3D-Printed, Battery-Powered Rocket Engine". Popular Science. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  12. ^ "New Zealand space launch is first from a private site". BBC News. 25 May 2017. Retrieved 26 May 2017.
  13. ^ "New Zealand test rocket makes it to space but not into orbit". Independent.ie. Associated Press. 25 May 2017. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  14. ^ a b Ryan, Holly (21 January 2018). "Blast off! Rocket Lab successfully reaches orbit". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  15. ^ Rocket Lab (2018-11-10), It's Business Time Launch - 11/11/2018, retrieved 2018-11-11
  16. ^ a b c d e Smyth, Jamie (21 January 2018). "Private group in 'world first' cheap rocket launch". Financial Times. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  17. ^ Brügge, Norbert. "Electron NLV". B14643.de. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  18. ^ Brügge, Norbert. "Electron Propulsion". B14643.de. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  19. ^ "Propulsion". Rocket Lab. Archived from the original on 19 September 2016. Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  20. ^ Foust, Jeff (23 January 2018). "Rocket Lab launch also tested new kick stage". SpaceNews. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  21. ^ a b Cofield, Calla (26 September 2016). "Rocket Lab Opens Private Orbital Launch Site in New Zealand". Space.com. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  22. ^ Dodd, Tim (11 October 2018). "Exclusive inside look at Rocket Lab's secret new mega factory!". Everyday Astronaut. Retrieved 12 October 2018.
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  27. ^ Foust, Jeff (17 October 2018). "Rocket Lab selects Wallops for U.S. launch site". SpaceNews. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  28. ^ Amos, Jonathan (16 July 2018). "Scotland to host first UK spaceport". BBC News. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  29. ^ Clark, Stephen (25 May 2017). "Maiden flight of Rocket Lab's small satellite launcher reaches space". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  30. ^ "Rocket Lab Completes Post-Flight Analysis". Rocket Lab. 7 August 2017. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  31. ^ Foust, Jeff (7 August 2017). "Telemetry glitch kept first Electron rocket from reaching orbit". SpaceNews. Retrieved 9 August 2017.
  32. ^ "Rocket Lab Completes Post-Flight Analysis for Electron 'Its a Test'". Rocket Lab. 7 August 2017. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  33. ^ Clark, Stephen (21 January 2018). "Rocket Lab delivers nanosatellites to orbit on first successful test launch". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  34. ^ Berger, Eric (24 January 2018). "Rocket Lab launched a secret payload into space last weekend". Ars Technica. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  35. ^ Clark, Stephen (1 December 2017). "Rocket Lab to launch second orbital-class rocket as soon as next week". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  36. ^ Reidy, Madison (11 December 2017). "Rocket Lab launch cancelled six minutes into window". Stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  37. ^ Clark, Stephen (12 December 2017). "Electron countdown aborted at engine start, next launch attempt Wednesday". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  38. ^ "Launch Schedule". Spaceflight Now. 19 January 2018. Archived from the original on 21 January 2018.
  39. ^ Grush, Loren (4 April 2018). "Rocket Lab sets date for first commercial launch of its Electron rocket". The Verge. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  40. ^ a b c Clark, Stephen (6 April 2018). "Rocket Lab preps for first commercial satellite launch". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  41. ^ "CICERO (Community Initiative for Continuing Earth Radio Occultation) pathfinder mission". eoPortal. European Space Agency. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  42. ^ a b c Gebhardt, Chris (25 May 2018). "Rocket Lab announces new launch date, payloads for "It's Business Time" Electron flight". NASASpaceFlight.com. Retrieved 28 May 2018.
  43. ^ "Rocket Lab sets new target date for first operational launch". Retrieved November 10, 2018.
  44. ^ Clark, Stephen (23 June 2018). "Ground antenna problem scrubs Rocket Lab's first commercial launch". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  45. ^ 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.
  46. ^ Clark, Stephen (28 June 2018). "Rocket Lab's first commercial launch grounded to fix nagging technical issue". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 12 July 2018.
  47. ^ RocketLab on Twitter: It's Business Time! The nine day launch window for #ItsBusinessTime opens 11 November, NZDT. Daily launch opportunities between 16:00 - 20:00 NZDT (03:00 - 07:00 UTC). Electron is ready. The team is primed. Let's go to orbit.
  48. ^ Foust, Jeff (7 August 2018). "Rocket Lab plans return to flight in November". SpaceNews. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  49. ^ a b "Rocket Lab completes fit check for NASA VCLS ELaNa XIX mission". Rocket Lab. 9 February 2018. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  50. ^ a b c d e f g "Rocket Lab to launch It's Business Time and ELaNa XIX missions weeks apart" (Press release). Rocket Lab. 6 August 2018. Retrieved 14 August 2018.
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  52. ^ Pietrobon, Steven. "New Zealand Launch Record (2009 to present)". Steven Pietrobon's Space Archive. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
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  55. ^ a b Boyle, Alan (12 July 2017). "Moon Express unveils its roadmap for giant leaps to the lunar surface ... and back again". GeekWire. Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  56. ^ "The Luna 02 Flight". Celestis. 10 October 2017. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  57. ^ a b Krebs, Gunter. "MX-1E 1, 2, 3". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 14 August 2017.
  58. ^ Berger, Eric (12 July 2017). "Private company plans to bring Moon rocks back to Earth in three years". Ars Technica.
  59. ^ a b c d "Electron". space.skyrocket.de. Retrieved 2018-11-05.

External links[edit]