A California-based startup has announced big plans to go small as it reaches into space, rocketing satellites the size of loaves of bread into orbit from Virginia.
The endeavor reflects increasing demand from companies and governments alike to monitor ships, crops and the weather from space.
Rocket Lab said Wednesday it will build its launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on the Eastern Shore.
THE ELECTRON ROCKET
Headquartered in Huntington Beach, California, Rocket Lab plans to keep costs low by using lightweight, expendable rockets with 3D-printed engines.
The 17-metre-long (55ft 7in) carbon-fibre rocket is a two-stage orbital expendable launch vehicle developed by the American aerospace company.
Its Rutherford engines are the first electric-pump-fed engine to power an orbital rocket.
Rocket Lab, which recently built its first launch pad in New Zealand, is setting up in Virginia at a time of unprecedented growth in the use of smaller and relatively inexpensive satellites.
The devices circle the earth for a few years before burning up in the atmosphere. Atlanta-based consulting firm SpaceWorks predicted in January that up to 2,600 of these will need to be launched into orbit over the next five years.
The industry is attracting venture capitalists, while firms in China and companies such as Virgin have built launch systems dedicated to the smaller devices. Dozens more are under development.
Rocket Lab has sent up two rockets so far, humorously calling those missions ‘It’s a test’ and ‘Still testing.’
The second rocket successfully reached orbit in January.
Rocket Lab’s next commercial mission, known as ‘It’s Business Time,’ is scheduled to lift off from New Zealand in November. Launches from Virginia are set to begin as early as summer 2019.