Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket as seen before being raised to vertical. The vehicle’s maiden flight will occur sometime in late-May 2017 from New Zealand. Spaceflight Industries has purchased a dedicated rocket for its rideshare program. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab
While Rocket Lab is gearing up to perform the maiden launch of its Electron rocket, SpaceFlight Industries announced that it has purchased a flight on a future Electron to increase the number of its dedicated ride-share missions.
Spaceflight Industries is purchasing rockets and then selling the space on board via a rideshare program. The company said the Electron is an ideal launch vehicle, especially for those looking for difficult-to-come-by destinations such as mid-inclination orbits for remote sensing satellites.
“There are numerous rideshare launches each year to Sun Synchronous Orbit, but getting to 45 to 60 degrees is hard to find, and can cost the equivalent of buying an entire rocket,” said Curt Blake, President of Spaceflight’s launch business, in a press release. “We are thrilled to be working with Rocket Lab to enable our customers’ remote sensing missions that require high revisit time over North America, Europe, and the Middle East.”
According to Spaceflight, dedicated rideshare for smallsats is a new launch alternative that blends cost-effective rideshare pricing with first-class services, which are typically associated with buying a private rocket.
The company has already launched more than 100 satellites from a variety of launch vehicles, including India’s PSLV, Russia’s Dnepr and Soyuz, and Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft. None of these rockets or spacecraft, however, were dedicated solely to Spaceflight customers.
For Rocket Lab’s 56-foot (17-meter) tall Electron, the vehicle is made entirely of carbon-composite material and can send payloads of up to 500 pounds (225 kilograms) to an elliptical orbit and up to 330 pounds (150 kilograms) to a 310-mile (500-kilometer) high Sun-synchronous orbit.
“We look forward to expanding this relationship and operational manifest with Spaceflight as we increase our market reach and remove the barriers to commercial space,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s CEO.
This is the second dedicated rideshare launch that Spaceflight has purchased. The first was inked in a deal with SpaceX in 2015. The company will launch several small satellites atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Neither SpaceX nor Rocket Lab have set a launch date for these missions.
For now, Rocket Lab is gearing up to launch its first Electron rocket. The flight will take place at its New Zealand launch site on the Mahia Peninsula. The company has a 10-day window that opens at 5 p.m. on May 21, 2017.
The mission, dubbed “It’s a Test”, will fly only if conditions are ideal, Rocket Lab said.
“We are all incredibly excited to get to this point,” Beck said in a May 15 news release. “Our talented team has been preparing for years for this opportunity and we want to do our best to get it right. Our number one priority is to gather enough data and experience to prepare for a commercial phase. Only then can we start delivering on our mission to make space more accessible.”
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity. He met with members of the SpaceFlight Insider team during the flight of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket with the MUOS-4 satellite. Richardson joined our team shortly thereafter. His passion for space ignited when he watched Space Shuttle Discovery launch into space Oct. 29, 1998. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized his true calling was communicating to others about space. Since joining SpaceFlight Insider in 2015, Richardson has worked to increase the quality of our content, eventually becoming our managing editor. @TheSpaceWriter