Rocket Lab managed to launch their first Electron rocket from Launch Complex 1 placed on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. Launch was successful but main objective was not be achieved – Rocket Lab announced in the official statement after mission.
This was great day for Rocket Lab, American company with research facilities in the United States and New Zealand. Company’s flagship rocket Electron was finally launched after four days of delay caused by strong winds over Mahia Peninsula. Plan of maiden mission assumed delivering capsule with sensors and scientific instruments to 300 km – 500 km orbit. Company did not provide full live video broadcast, so it is hard to give more details of the flight, but from official announcement we know that rocket was operating correctly but due the anomaly rocket failed to reach orbit.
Rocket was launched punctually at 04:20 UTC (16:20 local time) after erection from horizontal position. Nine Rutherford engines burning RP-1/LOX and providing 22.3 kN each were ignited and rocket started its flight towards south over Pacific Ocean. First stage was programmed to shut down after 120 seconds of flight; first stage separated correctly at T+2’34”. Unfortunately rocket failed to reach orbit, escape velocity was not reached; Company did not give any additional details on flight.
Rocket Lab is planning another two attempts to reach orbit this year. Main objective of the second flight will be reaching orbit with payload with mass close to planned for commercial flights, which is 150 kg. Still Rocket Lab is not unveiling dates of the future flights and characteristic of the payload.
Electron was designed as affordable launch vehicle with estimated cost of the mission at $4.9 million. Rocket built mainly with aircraft grade alloys and carbon is easy to manufacture due the wide usage of 3D printed parts. Company assumes that it is possible to perform even 50 launches per year, each with 150 kg of payload. Rocket Lab already booked flights for organizations and companies like NASA, Spire, Planet, Moon Express and Spaceflight.