Rocket Lab

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Rocket Lab
Industry Aerospace
Founded 2006
Founder Peter Beck [1]
Headquarters Los Angeles, CA,
Key people
Peter Beck, CEO
Number of employees
100 (May 2016)

Rocket Lab is a US aerospace corporation with a New Zealand subsidiary.[2] 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 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 run over the second half of 2016, with commercial flights commencing in 2017 at a starting price of US$4.9 million.[3]


Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by CEO and CTO Peter Beck. In 2009 Rocket Lab became the first private company in the Southern Hemisphere to reach space with the Ātea-1 sounding rocket.[4]

In December 2010 Rocket Lab was awarded a US contract from the Operationally Responsive Space Office (ORS) to study a low cost space launcher to place nanosatellites into orbit.[5][6][7][8]

Funding has been obtained from Bessemer Venture Partners, Callaghan Innovation, in 2014, and from Khosla Ventures in 2013.[9][10]


The first launch of the Ātea-1 (Māori for 'space') suborbital sounding rocket occurred in late 2009.[11] The 6-metre (20 ft) long rocket weighing 60 kg is designed to carry a 2 kg payload to an altitude of 120 km.[12] It was intended to carry scientific payloads or possibly personal items.[13][14][needs update]

Ātea-1 was successfully launched from Great Mercury Island near Coromandel on 30 November 2009 at 2:30 pm after fueling problems delayed the scheduled 7:10 am liftoff.[15]

Electron Launch Vehicle[edit]

Electron is a two-stage 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, the target range for the high-growth small satellite market. The projected cost is less than US$5 million per launch.[16]

The Rutherford engine uses pumps that are uniquely powered by battery-powered electric motors rather than a gas generator, expander, or preburner.[17] The engine is also fabricated largely by 3D printing, via electron beam melting,[18] whereby layers of metal powder are melted in a high vacuum by an electron beam rather than a laser. Design capacity is 150 kg to 500 km orbit.[19]

As of April 2016, the 5,000 lbf Rutherford engine for the second stage passed its firing tests; the first three test-flights are planned for mid-2016 from Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand's North Island.[20]

Launch complex[edit]

After encountering difficulty in obtaining resource consent for the Kaitorete Spit launch site,[21] Rocket Lab announced in November 2015 that its primary launch site would be on the Mahia Peninsula, east of Wairoa on the North Island, New Zealand.[22]


  1. ^ Messier, Doug (2014-07-29). "Rocket Lab Announces New Small Satellite Launcher". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 2014-07-31. 
  2. ^ "» About Us". Retrieved 2016-07-04. 
  3. ^ Rocket Lab plans to begin launches mid-year, Space News, 24 March 2016.
  4. ^ "Rocket Lab: the Electron, the Rutherford, and why Peter Beck started it in the first place - SpaceFlight Insider". SpaceFlight Insider. 2015-05-02. Retrieved 2016-05-25. 
  5. ^ 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."
  6. ^ "Rocket Research & Development Based in New Zealand". Rocket Lab. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  7. ^ "New Zealand Rocketry Association (NZRA) - Rocketry Links". Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  8. ^ "NZ set to join the space age". NZPA. 9 October 2009. Retrieved 22 November 2011. 
  9. ^ "Rocket Lab". Khosla Ventures. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  10. ^ Messier, Doug (2014-07-30). "A Look at Rocket Lab Funding Sources". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 2014-07-31. 
  11. ^ Cooper, Tracy (2009-11-30). "NZ's first space rocket launches". Waikato Times. Retrieved 2015-04-08. 
  12. ^ "Ātea-1 technical specifications". Rocket Lab. Archived from the original on 23 February 2010. 
  13. ^ "Rocket project gears for take off". The New Zealand Herald. 15 August 2007. Retrieved 2009-11-17. 
  14. ^ Goldsmith, Rob (16 November 2009). "Rocket lab primed to launch new zealand's first rocket into space". Space Fellowship website. Retrieved 2009-11-17. 
  15. ^ "NZ's first space launch saved by $6 replacement part". The New Zealand Herald. 30 November 2009. Retrieved 11 September 2011. 
  16. ^ Ryan, Sophie (2014-07-29). "NZ to get its own space programme by 2015". The New Zealand Herald. APNZ. 
  17. ^ Bradley, Grant (2015-04-15). "Rocket Lab unveils world's first battery rocket engine". The New Zealand Herald. 
  18. ^ Grush, Loren (2015-04-15). "A 3D-Printed, Battery-Powered Rocket Engine". Popular Science. 
  19. ^ Henry, Caleb. "Rocket Lab Completes Flight Qualification for Electron’s Rutherford Engine - Via Satellite -". Via Satellite. Retrieved 2016-04-05. 
  20. ^ "Rocket Lab Plans To Launch New, Affordable Rocket Engine Later This Year". Popular Science. Retrieved 2016-04-05. 
  21. ^ Thomas, Lauren (1 July 2015). "Space Base in New Zealand Picked to Start Private Trips to Orbit". Bloomberg. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  22. ^ Gregory, Debbie; Ashton, Andrew (2015-11-24). "Rocket Lab chooses Mahia for space launches". The Gisborne Herald.