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Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab
IndustryLaunch service provider
Founded2006; 12 years ago (2006)[1]
FounderPeter Beck[1]
HeadquartersHuntington Beach, California, U.S.
Key people
ProductsElectron rocket
Number of employees
~200 (December 2017)

Rocket Lab is a private American aerospace manufacturer and smallsat launcher with a wholly owned New Zealand subsidiary.[2] It has developed a suborbital sounding rocket named Ātea and currently operates a lightweight orbital rocket known as the Electron, which provides dedicated launches for smallsats and cubesats.

The Electron test program began in May 2017,[3][4] with commercial flights announced by the company to occur at a price listed in early 2018 as US$5.7 million.[5] Launching from Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand, the rocket's test flights took place on 25 May 2017 and 21 January 2018, [6][7] while its first commercial flight took place on 11 November 2018.[8]


Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company's CEO and CTO.[1] Internet entrepreneur and fellow New Zealander Mark Rocket was the seed investor and co-director from 2007 to 2011.[9] In 2009, Rocket Lab claimed it had become the first private company in the Southern Hemisphere to reach space[10] with the Ātea-1 sounding rocket. The payload was not recovered. This was not deemed necessary. As an instrumentation dart, the payload was not powered; its trajectory depended only on the boost phase of flight. The boost stage was recovered, and did have flight telemetry, on which the claim of reaching space was based.[citation needed]

In December 2010, Rocket Lab was awarded a U.S. government contract from the Operationally Responsive Space Office (ORS) to study a low cost space launcher to place CubeSats into orbit.[11][12][13][14] This agreement with NASA enables the company to use NASA resources such as personnel, facilities, and equipment for commercial launch efforts.[15][16]

Funding was obtained from Khosla Ventures in 2013,[17] and Callaghan Innovation and Bessemer Venture Partners in 2014.[18][19] In a March 2015 interview[20] In March 2017, the company announced that it had raised an additional US$75 million in a Series D equity round led by Data Collective with participation by Promus Ventures and several previous investors.[21] In November 2018, the company reported raising a $140M series E round led by Future Fund.[22]

Lockheed Martin is also a strategic investor since 2015,[23] and that funding will also go towards development of a new upper stage space tug called the Small Launch Orbital Maneuvering Vehicle, designed to place several CubeSats into specific orbit.[24][25][24]

Launch vehicles


The first launch of the Ātea (Māori for 'space') suborbital sounding rocket occurred in late 2009.[26] The 6-metre (20 ft) long rocket weighing 60 kg was designed to carry a 2 kg payload to an altitude of 120 km.[27] It was intended to carry scientific payloads or possibly personal items.[28][29][30]

Ātea-1 was successfully launched from Great Mercury Island near the Coromandel Peninsula on 30 November 2009 at 2:30 pm after fueling problems delayed the scheduled 7:10 am liftoff.[31] The rocket was tracked by GPS uplink to the INMARSAT-B communications satellite, which permitted verification of payload apogee above the Kármán line; it touched down approximately 50 km downrange.

The payload had no telemetry downlink, but had instrumentation including the launch vehicle's uplink to INMARSAT. Payload was not required to be recovered, being only a dart, and the company advised that should it be encountered by vessels at sea, the payload should not be handled as it was "potentially hazardous" and contained delicate instruments. However, performance characteristics were completely determined by the boost stage, which did have downlink telemetry and was recovered. A second launch of Ātea-1 was not attempted.


Electron is a two-stage launch vehicle which uses Rocket Lab's Rutherford liquid engines on both stages. The vehicle is capable of delivering payloads of 150 kg to a 500 km Sun-synchronous orbit,[32] the target range for the growing small satellite market. The projected cost is less than US$5 million per launch.[33]

The Rutherford engine uses pumps that are uniquely powered by battery-powered electric motors rather than a gas generator, expander, or preburner.[34] The engine is also fabricated largely by 3D printing, via electron beam melting,[35] whereby layers of metal powder are melted in a high vacuum by an electron beam rather than a laser.

By April 2016, the 22 kN (5,000 lbf) second-stage Rutherford engine had completed firing tests.[4][36] The first test flight took place on 25 May 2017 at 04:20 UTC from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand's North Island.[6] After reaching an altitude of about 224 km (140 mi), the rocket was performing nominally but telemetry was lost so the decision to destroy it was made by range safety.[37][38][39]

On 21 January 2018 at 01:43 UTC, their second rocket named "Still Testing" launched, reached orbit and deployed three CubeSats for customers Planet Labs and Spire Global.[40] The rocket also carried an additional satellite payload called "Humanity Star", a 1-meter-wide (3 ft) carbon fiber geodesic sphere made up of 65 panels that reflect the Sun's light.[41]

On 11 November 2018, the first commercial launch of Electron occurred from the east coast of New Zealand carrying satellites for Spire Global, GeoOptics, a CubeSat built by high school students, and a prototype of a dragsail.[8]



In October 2018, Rocket Lab revealed their new manufacturing facility in Auckland, New Zealand.[42]

Launch Complex 1

After encountering difficulty in obtaining resource consent for the Kaitorete Spit launch site,[43] Rocket Lab announced in November 2015 that its primary launch site would be on the Mahia Peninsula, east of Wairoa in the North Island, New Zealand.[44] The site is licensed to launch rockets every 72 hours for 30 years.[45] The Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 was officially opened on 26 September 2016 (UTC; 27 September NZDT).[46]

Launch Complex 2

In order to increase their flight cadence, Rocket Lab searched for multiple launch sites.[when?] In October 2018, the company announced their selection of NASA Wallops Flight Facility as their second launch site.[47] The site was chosen for its low number of launches from other companies, along with its ability to supplement orbital inclinations provided by LC-1.

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Rocket Lab Celebrates Rich Ten-Year History". Rocket Lab. 2016. Retrieved 22 May 2017.
  2. ^ "FAQ". Rocket Lab. Retrieved 26 January 2018. Where is Rocket Lab based? [-] Rocket Lab is an American company with headquarters in Los Angeles and a wholly-owned New Zealand subsidiary.
  3. ^ "Rocket Lab successfully makes it to space". Rocket Lab. 25 May 2017. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Rocket Lab Completes Major Technical Milestone Ahead of Test Launches". Rocket Lab. 13 December 2016. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  5. ^ Gugliotta, Guy (April 2018). "Small Rockets Aim for a Big Market". Air & Space Magazine. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  6. ^ a b Clark, Stephen (25 May 2017). "Maiden flight of Rocket Lab's small satellite launcher reaches space". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  7. ^ Clark, Stephen (21 January 2018). "Rocket Lab delivers nanosatellites to orbit on first successful test launch". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  8. ^ a b Kenneth Chang (2018-11-11). "Rocket Lab's Modest Launch Is Giant Leap for Small Rocket Business". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-11-11.
  9. ^ "Home". Mark Rocket.
  10. ^ Botsford End, Rae (2 May 2015). "Rocket Lab: the Electron, the Rutherford, and why Peter Beck started it in the first place". Spaceflight Insider. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  11. ^ "News". Rocket Lab. Archived from the original on 23 July 2011. December 2010 - Rocket Lab was awarded a US contract from the Operationally Responsive Space Office (ORS) to study low cost international alternatives. Included in this study is a 640,000Ns booster, a miniature avionics system and a launch vehicle to place small mass satellites into polar and low Earth orbits.
  12. ^ "Rocket Research & Development Based in New Zealand". Rocket Lab. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
  13. ^ "Rocketry Links". New Zealand Rocketry Association. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
  14. ^ "NZ set to join the space age". NZPA. 9 October 2009. Retrieved 22 November 2011.
  15. ^ Henry, Caleb (31 July 2015). "Rocket Lab Signs NASA Partnership to Tap Launch Resources". Via Satellite. Retrieved 27 January 2018.
  16. ^ Mann, Adam (6 December 2017). "Rocket Lab poised to provide dedicated launcher for CubeSat science". Science. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  17. ^ "Rocket Lab". Khosla Ventures. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  18. ^ Messier, Doug (30 July 2014). "A Look at Rocket Lab Funding Sources". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  19. ^ "Rocket Lab". Bessemer Venture Partners. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  20. ^ "Lockheed Martin invests in Auckland's Rocket Labs". The National Business Review. 3 March, 2015. Check date values in: |date=, |archive-date= (help)
  21. ^ Foust, Jeff (21 March 2017). "Rocket Lab raises $75 million to scale up launch vehicle production". SpaceNews. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  22. ^ Alan Boyle (2018-11-15). "Rocket Lab reports $140M in fresh funding, cementing space unicorn status". Yahoo! Finance. Retrieved 2018-11-16.
  23. ^ [1]. The National Business Review. 3 March 2015.
  24. ^ a b site selected as launch base for Lockheed Martin, Orbex. Stephen Clark, Spaceflight Now. 16 July 2018.
  25. ^ Lockheed Martin yet to select vehicle to launch from British spaceport. Jeff Foust, Space News. 17 July 2018.
  26. ^ Cooper, Tracy (30 November 2009). "NZ's first space rocket launches". Waikato Times. Archived from the original on 23 February 2013. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  27. ^ "Ātea-1 technical specifications". Rocket Lab. Archived from the original on 23 February 2010.
  28. ^ "Rocket project gears for take off". The New Zealand Herald. 15 August 2007. Retrieved 17 November 2009.
  29. ^ Goldsmith, Rob (16 November 2009). "Rocket lab primed to launch New Zealand's first rocket into space". Space Fellowship. Retrieved 17 November 2009.
  30. ^ Vance, Ashlee (29 June 2017). "At 18, He Strapped a Rocket Engine to His Bike. Now He's Taking on SpaceX". Bloomberg Business. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  31. ^ "NZ's first space launch saved by $6 replacement part". The New Zealand Herald. 30 November 2009. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
  32. ^ Henry, Caleb (23 March 2016). "Rocket Lab Completes Flight Qualification for Electron's Rutherford Engine". Via Satellite. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  33. ^ Ryan, Sophie (29 July 2014). "NZ to get its own space programme by 2015". The New Zealand Herald. APNZ.
  34. ^ Bradley, Grant (15 April 2015). "Rocket Lab unveils world's first battery rocket engine". The New Zealand Herald.
  35. ^ Grush, Loren (15 April 2015). "A 3D-Printed, Battery-Powered Rocket Engine". Popular Science.
  36. ^ Fecht, Sarah (24 March 2016). "Rocket Lab Plans To Launch New, Affordable Rocket Engine Later This Year". Popular Science. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  37. ^ "Rocket Lab Completes Post-Flight Analysis". Rocket Lab. 7 August 2017. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  38. ^ Foust, Jeff (7 August 2017). "Telemetry glitch kept first Electron rocket from reaching orbit". SpaceNews. Retrieved 9 August 2017.
  39. ^ Masunaga, Samantha (25 May 2017). "Rocket Lab's Electron rocket reaches space, but not orbit, in first test flight". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 26 May 2017.
  40. ^ Ryan, Holly (21 January 2018). "Blast off! Rocket Lab successfully reaches orbit". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  41. ^ Grush, Loren (24 January 2018). "Rocket Lab secretly launched a disco ball satellite on its latest test flight". The Verge. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  42. ^ "Exclusive Inside Look at Rocket Lab's Previously-secret new Mega Factory!". Everyday Astronaut. 11 October 2018. Retrieved 10 November 2018. Although Rocket Lab’s engines and avionics are built in Huntington Beach, California, the final assembly of the vehicle is done here in Auckland–A fitting choice, as they’re currently only launching from their Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, some 500 km away.
  43. ^ Thomas, Lauren (1 July 2015). "Space Base in New Zealand Picked to Start Private Trips to Orbit". Bloomberg. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  44. ^ Gregory, Debbie; Ashton, Andrew (24 November 2015). "Rocket Lab chooses Mahia for space launches". Gisborne Herald.
  45. ^ McNicol, Hamish (18 September 2016). "New Zealand space industry prepared for takeoff". Retrieved 18 September 2016.
  46. ^ Cofield, Calla (26 September 2016). "Rocket Lab Opens Private Orbital Launch Site in New Zealand". Retrieved 26 September 2016.
  47. ^ "Rocket Lab selects Wallops as first U.S. launch site, readies Electron for November launch –". Retrieved 2018-10-23.

External links