Unfavorable weather conditions resulted in four days of delay for the maiden voyage of Rocket Lab’s Electron Rocket. As the firm and its followers grew impatient with the seemingly endless delays, the team took a golden launch opportunity the moment it popped up and officially launched the rocket.
Since media outlets were not permitted at the New Zealand launch site, there wasn’t a live stream like there are of several other commercial rocket launches around the world. Nevertheless, Rocket Lab recorded the launch themselves and shared footage via their social media channels, such as this on on the firm's Twitter page:
The Electron Rocket reportedly made it into space, but unfortunately didn’t get high enough to be classified as “in orbit,” this essentially means that while the launch was successful, the Rocket Lab team will have make tweaks to the propellant so the rocket gets more push next time.
"It was a great flight," Peter Beck of Rocket Lab said after admitting the rocket didn’t quite make it as high as they had wished. "We'll be investigating why, however reaching space in our first test puts us in an incredibly strong position to accelerate the commercial phase of our program, deliver our customers to orbit and make space open for business."
Since the Electron Rocket didn’t have a payload on its maiden voyage, engineers will have to compensate for added weight (up to 330 pounds) in the future, as more weight means more fuel usage. While back-to-back launches of the Electron Rocket are not planned, the firm will be launching a second one sometime by the end of this Summer.
Being that many commercial rocket companies currently fare science projects into space, but at higher costs, many projects try to hitch a ride on existing launches by chipping in for the cost to launch the rocket. On the other hand, Electron Rocket is a smaller class of orbit-capable rockets that aims to make launches significantly cheaper so more projects can go into space on their own.
Compared to a $60 million or more flight via SpaceX on a 230-foot Falcon 9 rocket, the 55-foot Electron Rocket only costs about $5 million per launch, which adds up to significant savings and could enable space transport for more scientific projects than ever before.
The cost-savings reportedly come not only from flying a smaller rocket, but also the fact that the components to build it are 3D-printed, which saves on manufacturing. Unfortunately, Electron Rocket can’t be landed and re-used like the competition, which is one downside.
Being that the Electron Rocket is so much smaller than the full-sized competition, the cargo it can take into space is also limited. Nevertheless, it’s hoped that future cubesat and smallsat missions will take advantage of Electron Rocket for what it’s worth.