Rocket Lab has launched its Electron rocket in its first-ever orbital test flight.
The rocket reached space but failed to reach its target orbit. Reasons for the orbital miscue will be investigated.
Liftoff for the commercial rocket under development came at 12:20 a.m. EDT May 25 (4:20 p.m. local time) from a new facility on the Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand’s North Island. Based in Huntington Beach, Calif., Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 with a goal of developing lightweight rockets capable of carrying small satellites or other spacecraft into orbit. Previously, it had test-launched only a series of suborbital rockets it developed as prototypes.
In March, Rocket Lab announced a key $75 million funding round to propel its development of the Electron toward the test phase. The company’s primary engineering, design and mission control center facility is in Auckland, New Zealand.
The launch of Rocket Lab’s 56-foot “It’sATest” rocket had been scheduled and then scrubbed due to high winds on each of the three previous days.
After the third postponement, CEO Peter Beck posted to Twitter: “Weather constraints will reduce in commercial phase. Focus now is testing rocket systems, rather than ability to deal with adverse weather.”
Lower-cost launch vehicles capable of delivering small satellites into orbit also are in development by other commercial space contractors. Those include a recently announced Boeing project to build a reusable spaceplane for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, dubbed the CS-1, which would boast a motor being developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne.