Rocket Lab

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Rocket Lab
Industry Launch service provider
Founded 2006[1]
Founder Peter Beck[1]
Headquarters Los Angeles, California, United States
Key people
Products Electron rocket
Number of employees
100 (May 2016)

Rocket Lab is a US aerospace corporation with a New Zealand subsidiary.[1] Rocket Lab's mission is to develop lightweight, cost-effective commercial rocket launch services. The Electron Program was founded on the premise that small payloads such as CubeSats require dedicated small launch vehicles and flexibility not currently offered by traditional rocket systems. Electron, Rocket Lab's lightweight launch vehicle, is designed to service the small satellite market with dedicated, high-frequency launch opportunities. Electron is capable of delivering payloads of 150 kg to a 500 km Sun-synchronous orbit.

The Electron test program is scheduled to begin in early 2017,[2] with commercial flights commencing later that year at a starting price of US$4.9 million.[3]


Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by CEO and CTO Peter Beck.[1] Internet entrepreneur Mark Rocket was the seed investor and co-Director from 2007 to 2011.[4] In 2009 Rocket Lab claimed it had become the first private company in the Southern Hemisphere to reach space with the Ātea-1 sounding rocket, a claim which was not supported with flight data as the rocket had no telemetry downlink and was not recovered.[5]

In December 2010 Rocket Lab was awarded a U.S. government contract from the Operationally Responsive Space Office (ORS) to study a low cost space launcher to place nanosatellites into orbit.[6][7][8][9]

Funding was obtained from Khosla Ventures in 2013,[10] and Callaghan Innovation and Bessemer Venture Partners in 2014.[11][12] In March 2017, the company announced that it had raised an additional US$75 million in a Series D equity round led by Data Collective with participation by Promus Ventures and several previous investors.[13]


The first launch of the Ātea-1 (Māori for 'space') suborbital sounding rocket occurred in late 2009.[14] The 6-metre (20 ft) long rocket weighing 60 kg was designed to carry a 2 kg payload to an altitude of 120 km.[15] It was intended to carry scientific payloads or possibly personal items.[16][17][needs update]

Ātea-1 was successfully launched from Great Mercury Island near the Coromandel Peninsula on 30 November 2009 at 2:30 pm after fueling problems delayed the scheduled 7:10 am liftoff.[18] The rocket was not tracked, had no telemetry downlink and was not recovered. Thus, no flight data exists and the actual apogee altitude could not be verified.

A second launch of Ātea-1 was never attempted.


Main article: Electron (rocket)

Electron is a two-stage launch vehicle which uses Rocket Lab's Rutherford liquid engines on both stages. The vehicle is capable of delivering payloads of 150 kg to a 500 km sun-synchronous orbit,[19] the target range for the growing small satellite market. The projected cost is less than US$5 million per launch.[20]

The Rutherford engine uses pumps that are uniquely powered by battery-powered electric motors rather than a gas generator, expander, or preburner.[21] The engine is also fabricated largely by 3D printing, via electron beam melting,[22] whereby layers of metal powder are melted in a high vacuum by an electron beam rather than a laser.

As of April 2016, the 22 kN (5,000 lbf) Rutherford engine for the second stage passed its firing tests; the first test flights are planned for early 2017 from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand's North Island.[2][23]

Launch Complex 1[edit]

After encountering difficulty in obtaining resource consent for the Kaitorete Spit launch site,[24] Rocket Lab announced in November 2015 that its primary launch site would be on the Mahia Peninsula, east of Wairoa in the North Island, New Zealand.[25] The site is licensed to launch rockets every 72 hours for 30 years.[26] The Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 was officially opened on 26 September 2016 (UTC; 27 September NZDT).[27]


  1. ^ a b c d "About Us". Rocket Lab. Retrieved 4 July 2016. 
  2. ^ a b "Rocket Lab Completes Major Technical Milestone Ahead of Test Launches". Rocket Lab. 13 December 2016. Retrieved 13 December 2016. 
  3. ^ Rocket Lab plans to begin launches mid-year, Space News, 24 March 2016.
  4. ^ "Home". Mark Rocket. 
  5. ^ "Rocket Lab: the Electron, the Rutherford, and why Peter Beck started it in the first place - SpaceFlight Insider". SpaceFlight Insider. 2 May 2015. Retrieved 25 May 2016. 
  6. ^ Rocket Lab News, Webarchive: "December 2010 - Rocket Lab was awarded a US contract from the Operationally Responsive Space Office (ORS) to study low cost international alternatives. Included in this study is a 640,000Ns booster, a miniature avionics system and a launch vehicle to place small mass satellites into polar and low Earth orbits."
  7. ^ "Rocket Research & Development Based in New Zealand". Rocket Lab. Retrieved 9 October 2012. 
  8. ^ "New Zealand Rocketry Association (NZRA) - Rocketry Links". Retrieved 9 October 2012. 
  9. ^ "NZ set to join the space age". NZPA. 9 October 2009. Retrieved 22 November 2011. 
  10. ^ "Rocket Lab". Khosla Ventures. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  11. ^ Messier, Doug (30 July 2014). "A Look at Rocket Lab Funding Sources". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 31 July 2014. 
  12. ^ "Rocket Lab". Bessemer Venture Partners. Retrieved 21 March 2017. 
  13. ^ Foust, Jeff (21 March 2017). "Rocket Lab raises $75 million to scale up launch vehicle production". SpaceNews. Retrieved 21 March 2017. 
  14. ^ Cooper, Tracy (30 November 2009). "NZ's first space rocket launches". Waikato Times. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  15. ^ "Ātea-1 technical specifications". Rocket Lab. Archived from the original on 23 February 2010. 
  16. ^ "Rocket project gears for take off". The New Zealand Herald. 15 August 2007. Retrieved 17 November 2009. 
  17. ^ Goldsmith, Rob (16 November 2009). "Rocket lab primed to launch new zealand's first rocket into space". Space Fellowship website. Retrieved 17 November 2009. 
  18. ^ "NZ's first space launch saved by $6 replacement part". The New Zealand Herald. 30 November 2009. Retrieved 11 September 2011. 
  19. ^ Henry, Caleb. "Rocket Lab Completes Flight Qualification for Electron's Rutherford Engine - Via Satellite -". Via Satellite. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  20. ^ Ryan, Sophie (29 July 2014). "NZ to get its own space programme by 2015". The New Zealand Herald. APNZ. 
  21. ^ Bradley, Grant (15 April 2015). "Rocket Lab unveils world's first battery rocket engine". The New Zealand Herald. 
  22. ^ Grush, Loren (15 April 2015). "A 3D-Printed, Battery-Powered Rocket Engine". Popular Science. 
  23. ^ "Rocket Lab Plans To Launch New, Affordable Rocket Engine Later This Year". Popular Science. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  24. ^ Thomas, Lauren (1 July 2015). "Space Base in New Zealand Picked to Start Private Trips to Orbit". Bloomberg. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  25. ^ Gregory, Debbie; Ashton, Andrew (24 November 2015). "Rocket Lab chooses Mahia for space launches". Gisborne Herald. 
  26. ^ McNicol, Hamish (18 September 2016). "New Zealand space industry prepared for takeoff". Retrieved 17 September 2016. 
  27. ^ Cofield, Calla (26 September 2016). "Rocket Lab Opens Private Orbital Launch Site in New Zealand". Retrieved 26 September 2016. 

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