It dropped off its first fully-fledged business payload – six satellites and an experimental piece of technology for five clients. The take-off was the third attempt at the mission after technical issues in April and June which followed a successful test in January. Rocket Lab founder and chief Peter Beck earlier described the mission – named “It’s Business Time” – as a milestone in the global space industry and said it marked the beginning of commercial operations to get small satellites into orbit.
The Electron rockets use 3D-printed engines and can carry payloads up to about 150kg. Rocket Lab hopes to complete a launch every two weeks in 2019 and weekly in 2020. Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company’s CEO and CTO. 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. Electron is a two-stage launch vehicle which uses Rocket Lab’s Rutherford liquid engines on both stages. Its target is the growing small satellite market. The projected cost is less than US$5 million per launch. The engine is fabricated largely by 3D printing. Layers of metal powder are melted in a high vacuum by an electron beam rather than a laser.