SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket quickly became of the most prominent means of commercial and private satellite launches, but sending such a massive rocket to space requires a lot of expensive rocket fuel, and not all consumers have pockets deep enough to pay the steep price tag.
A United States-based spaceflight startup dubbed Rocket Lab first came into the light in 2017 with a brand-new 56-foot tall rocket dubbed the Electron Rocket that would target such consumers. At just over one-fifth of the size of a Falcon 9 rocket, the Electron Rocket requires less fuel and is more affordable to launch, but it’s also limited as to what it can take to space.
Image Credit: Rocket Lab/YouTube
The Electron Rocket is ideal for smaller satellites, which also known as CubeSats and SmallSats. As demonstrated by previous test launches, the Electron Rocket can take several of these satellites into space at one time so long as the payload doesn’t exceed ~500 pounds. Given the circumstances, the company is making rocket launches more accessible to smaller firms.
Rocket Lab got its first chance to conduct a commercial satellite launch on Sunday, November 11th when the company’s Electron Rocket lofted a combined payload into space for three customers. The rocket ignited its engines Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula at 4:50 P.M. and the payloads reached orbit not long after.
Rocket Lab named its first rocket launch event “It’s Business Time,” which is a catchy way of denoting how the company wants to do more business with satellite companies in the future. Sunday’s combined payload encompassed a bevy of smaller satellites and a conceptual drag sail developed to deorbit Earth-orbiting space junk.
For those interested, Rocket Lab recorded and published the full video of Sunday’s launch on YouTube. We’ve embedded the video below for your viewing pleasure:
"The world is waking up to the new normal. With the Electron launch vehicle, rapid and reliable access to space is now a reality for small satellites," Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck said in a statement. "We’re thrilled to be leading the small satellite launch industry by reaching orbit a second time and deploying more payloads. The team carried out a flawless flight with incredibly precise orbital insertion."
Rocket Lab certainly appears to be creating a future-proof niche. As advancements in technology enable smaller and more compact satellites, the market for sending these smaller satellites to space without the price tag associated with a more massive rocket is expected to grow with time. It should be interesting to see whether other space companies follow with smaller rocket options in the future.