|Industry||Launch service provider|
|Headquarters||Los Angeles, California, United States|
Number of employees
|100 (May 2016)|
Rocket Lab is a US aerospace corporation with a New Zealand subsidiary. 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.
Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by CEO and CTO Peter Beck. Internet entrepreneur Mark Rocket was the seed investor and co-Director from 2007 to 2011. 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.
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.
Funding was obtained from Khosla Ventures in 2013, and Callaghan Innovation and Bessemer Venture Partners in 2014. 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.
The first launch of the Ātea-1 (Māori for 'space') suborbital sounding rocket occurred in late 2009. The 6-metre (20 ft) long rocket weighing 60 kg was designed to carry a 2 kg payload to an altitude of 120 km. It was intended to carry scientific payloads or possibly personal items.[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. 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.
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, the target range for the growing small satellite market. The projected cost is less than US$5 million per launch.
The Rutherford engine uses pumps that are uniquely powered by battery-powered electric motors rather than a gas generator, expander, or preburner. The engine is also fabricated largely by 3D printing, via electron beam melting, 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.
Launch Complex 1
After encountering difficulty in obtaining resource consent for the Kaitorete Spit launch site, 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. The site is licensed to launch rockets every 72 hours for 30 years. The Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 was officially opened on 26 September 2016 (UTC; 27 September NZDT).
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