USA venture firm launches 3 small satellites

Posted January 22, 2018

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket took off from a picturesque commercial launch base in New Zealand on Saturday, U.S. time, on a test flight that delivered three CubeSats into orbit on the company's first successful satellite deployment.

It's a big development for the industry, meaning that smaller companies will now be able to have their satellites launched into orbit for a relative fraction of what it cost in the past.

Japan's space agency, JAXA, plans to launch its own mini-rocket next month.

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Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck said reaching orbit on a test flight was significant but successfully deploying a customer payload so early in a new rocket programme was nearly "unprecedented".

As with launch locations in the United States, Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 is located on a remote area of land within New Zealand - providing increased safety and a natural barrier to curious humans.

The company last May reached space with its first test launch, only to abort the mission due to a communication glitch. Rocket Lab said that if the mishap hadn't occurred, the Electron would have made it to orbit.

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The firm, with the successful launch, has vowed to go into commercial operations as soon as possible.

Then Rocket Lab also had some difficulty getting this second test flight off the ground. In theory, the successful Electron flight places the completion of a lunar mission by the deadline for Moon Express inside the realm of possibility.

The company hopes to begin commercial launches next year and eventually launch one rocket every week.

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And that means Rocket Lab can finally start launching the payloads of its long customer lineup, which includes NASA, Spaceflight, and more. But Rocket Lab does have five completed Electron rockets available, and expects to fly again in "early 2018". They're thrilled to reach this milestone so quickly after their first test launch.