|Industry||Launch service provider|
Huntington Beach, California,
Rutherford rocket engine
Photon Satellite Bus
Number of employees
|~500 (June 2019)|
Rocket Lab is a private American aerospace manufacturer and smallsat launcher with a wholly owned New Zealand subsidiary. It developed a suborbital sounding rocket named Ātea and currently operates a lightweight orbital rocket known as Electron, which provides dedicated launches for smallsats and CubeSats. The company was founded in New Zealand in 2006 by Peter Beck and later[when?] moved to California in the United States. The Electron test program began in May 2017, with commercial flights announced by the company to occur at a price listed in early 2018 as US$5.7 million. Launching from Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand, the rocket's test flights took place on 25 May 2017 and 21 January 2018, while its first commercial flight took place on 11 November 2018. On 16 December 2018, Rocket Lab launched their first mission for NASA's ELaNa program. The company plans to make its first launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia in 2019.
Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company's CEO and CTO. Internet entrepreneur and fellow New Zealander Mark Rocket was the seed investor and co-director from 2007 to 2011. In 2009, Rocket Lab claimed it had become the first private company in the Southern Hemisphere to reach space 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.
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. This agreement with NASA enables the company to use NASA resources such as personnel, facilities, and equipment for commercial launch efforts.
Funding was obtained from Khosla Ventures in 2013, and Callaghan Innovation and Bessemer Venture Partners in 2014. Lockheed Martin became a strategic investor in 2015, and Rocket Lab announced in March 2017 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. In November 2018, the company reported raising a US$140-million series E round led by Future Fund.
The first launch of the Ātea (Māori for 'space') suborbital sounding rocket occurred in late 2009. The 6-metre (20 ft) long rocket weighing 60 kg was designed to carry a 2 kg payload to an altitude of 120 km. It was intended to carry scientific payloads or possibly personal items.
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. 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, the target range for the growing small satellite market. The projected cost is less than US$5 million per launch.
The Rutherford engine uses pumps that are uniquely powered by battery-powered electric motors rather than a gas generator, expander, or preburner. The engine is also fabricated largely by 3D printing, via electron beam melting, 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. The first test flight took place on 25 May 2017 at 04:20 UTC from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand's North Island. 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.
On 21 January 2018 at 01:43 UTC, their second rocket on a flight named "Still Testing" launched, reached orbit and deployed three CubeSats for customers Planet Labs and Spire Global. 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. Humanity Star re-entered Earth's atmosphere and burned up in March 2018.
On 11 November 2018, the first commercial launch of Electron occurred from Mahia Peninsula carrying satellites for Spire Global, GeoOptics, a CubeSat built by high school students, and a prototype of a dragsail.
Based off Rocket Lab's Electron kick stage, Photon is a satellite bus to assist customers getting into orbit quickly, as it allows them to focus on their services and not on building hardware. It will use the Curie engine. The Photon will use S-band communication. Depending on the orbital inclination (37° to sun-synchronous orbit) it is expected to have the maximum payload capacity of 170 kilograms (370 lb). 
The Auckland facility is in charge of the overall integration of the vehicles to be launched from Mahia.
Launch Complex 1
After encountering difficulty in obtaining resource consent for the Kaitorete Spit launch site, 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. The site is licensed to launch rockets every 72 hours for 30 years. The Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 (LC-1) was officially opened on 26 September 2016 (UTC; 27 September NZDT).
Launch Complex 2
In October 2018, after several months of search, the company announced their selection of NASA Wallops Flight Facility as their second launch site. 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. The CEO, Peter Beck, said that the most importants consideration of the selection were the flight rate increase and the ability to set up the pad quickly thanks to the readiness of the infrastructure. It is expected to be capable of monthly launches serving US government and commercial missions.
The LC-2 pad is located within the fenceline of Pad A of Wallops.
- "Rocket Lab Celebrates Rich Ten-Year History". Rocket Lab. 2016. Retrieved 22 May 2017.
- Note: As of 2018, the company is structured as follows. The "ultimate holding company" is Rocket Lab USA Inc. registered in the United States. The subsidiary is Rocked Tab Limited, a NZ Limited Company.
- "FAQ". Rocket Lab. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
Where is Rocket Lab based? [-] Rocket Lab is an American company with headquarters in Los Angeles and a wholly-owned New Zealand subsidiary.
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- "Home". Mark Rocket.
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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.
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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.
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- Official website