Rocket Lab - Electron
Electron is the only reusable orbital-class small rocket. Capturing and reflying Electron’s first stage enables higher launch frequency without expanding production and lowers launch costs.
Rocket Lab is a global leader in small satellite launch. Founded in 2006, Rocket Lab provides end-to-end mission services, including complete satellite build and launch solutions that provide rapid, frequent, and reliable access to space. Headquartered in Huntington Beach, California, Rocket Lab designs and manufactures the Electron launch vehicle and Photon satellite platform. Electron is a full carbon-composite launch vehicle tailored for small satellites. Photon is a complete spacecraft bus solution that can be tailored for a range of missions. Together Electron and Photon offer an all-inclusive spacecraft build and launch service for Rocket Lab customers.
Rocket Lab initially launched from its facility on the Mahia peninsula of New Zealand. Launch Complex-2 located at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. LC-2 expanded the company’s access to both commercial and government customers who wish to launch from United States soil in order to meet the growing demand for more rapid and more frequent deployment of space-based assets. The dedicated launch site will be capable of supporting monthly orbital launches and will increase Rocket Lab’s capacity to as many as 130 missions per year across the two sites
Electron’s first stage is powered by nine Rutherford engines. Rutherford is an oxygen/kerosene pump fed engine specifically designed in-house for Electron using an entirely new propulsion cycle. Its unique high-performance electric propellant pumps reduce mass and replace hardware with software. Rutherford is the first oxygen/kerosene engine to use 3D printing for all primary components.
Electron's second stage is powered by a variant of the Rutherford Engine providing improved performance in vacuum conditions. Electron’s payload fairing is designed to decouple payload integration from the main assembly. The all–carbon composite payload fairing is designed and manufactured in-house at Rocket Lab. Electron makes use of advanced carbon composite materials for a strong and lightweight flight structure. Through an extensive research program, Rocket Lab has developed carbon composite tanks that are compatible with liquid oxygen, providing impressive weight savings.
An optional apogee kick stage that can execute multiple burns to place numerous payloads into different, circularized orbits. It opens up significantly more orbital options, particularly for rideshare customers that have traditionally been limited to the primary payload’s designated orbit. Powered by Rocket Lab's 3D printed liquid propellant Curie engine capable of 120N of thrust and multiple burns.
It's a Test was the first launch of Rocket Lab's Electron launch vehicle. When Electron lifted-off at 16:20 NZT 25 May 2017 from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, it became the first orbital-class rocket launched from from a private launch site. The mission saw Electron complete a perfect first stage burn, stage separation, second stage ignition and fairing separation. Electron successfully reached space and put Rocket Lab in a strong position to accelerate into commercial operations.
Rocket Lab’s mission ‘As The Crow Flies’ was the company’s 9th Electron launch and it saw Electron’s Kick Stage deploy a payload to an altitude of more than 1,000 km. The mission successfully demonstrated recent upgrades to the 3D-printed Curie propulsion system for Photon, including the move to a bi-propellant design for greatly improved performance.
Rocket Lab, the global leader in dedicated small satellite launch, announced 5 November 2019 that its next mission will launch multiple microsatellites in a rideshare mission representing five different countries. The launch window for Rocket Lab’s tenth flight, named ‘Running Out Of Fingers,’ opened 25th November NZDT and took place from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula.
Onboard this rideshare mission are six spacecraft comprised of 5cm PocketQube microsatellites from satellite manufacturer and mission management provider Alba Orbital. The final payload on board was procured by satellite rideshare and mission management provider Spaceflight for ALE Co., Ltd (ALE), a Tokyo-based company creating microsatellites that simulate meteor particles.
Electron’s first stage will not be recovered from this mission, however the stage includes new hardware and sensors to inform future recovery efforts. As part of a first stage block upgrade, Electron’s booster will include guidance and navigation hardware, including S-band telemetry and onboard flight computer systems, to gather data during the first stage’s atmospheric re-entry. The stage is also equipped with a reaction control system to orient the booster during its re-entry descent.
Satellite launch company Rocket Lab was forced to delay the launch of three US intelligence satellites from its New Zealand launch facility after that country ordered residents to stay home amid a spreading COVID-19 outbreak. The private space launch company announced it had been forced to postpone the launch from its New Zealand spaceport on the north island’s Mahia Peninsula for a second time. The rocket, which is due to lift three satellites for the US Department of Defense’s National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), was originally slated to launch on March 30 but now is not expected to blast off before April 23.
“The mission was scheduled to lift off from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand on 30 March UTC. Launch preparations have been paused, however, following the New Zealand Government’s announcement on 23 March NZDT to implement the Level 4 COVID-19 response which requires most businesses to close and instructs people to stay at home. We commend the government for taking this drastic but necessary step to limit the spread of COVID-19,” the company said in a press release.
“This decision was made with the full support of the NRO, and we continue to engage with our partners at Rocket Lab as they work with the New Zealand government and local health officials to determine when launch operations can resume,” NRO spokesperson Laura Lundin told C4ISRNET. “The launch vehicle and ground systems will remain in a state of readiness for launch as the evolving situation allows.” Rocket Lab noted the Electron rocket as well as ground systems at Launch Complex 1 would “remain in a state of readiness for launch as the evolving situation allows it,” but noted that “the majority of our team is working from home with the exception of a few essential personnel who are monitoring and maintaining critical systems.”
C4ISRNET noted the mission, dubbed “Don’t Stop Me Now,” would have seen payloads from the US space agency NASA and the University of New South Wales, Canberra Space, hitching a ride with the Pentagon’s payloads. All information about the nature of those payloads is classified.
A Rocketlab Electron booster was fired from the company's New Zealand launch site 15 May 2021, but the two-satellite payload was lost when the vehicle suffered a malfunction just after second stage engine ignition two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. Counting an initial test flight in 2017, it was the third failure in 20 launchings of Rocketlab's innovative 60-foot-tall Electron rocket, designed to lift small satellites to orbit that might otherwise have to wait for rides aboard larger, more expensive boosters.
The first successful launch 28 July 2021 came after its failed mission in May. The mission, called “It’s a Little Chile Up Here,” took off from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 11 p.m. Pacific Time. The mission was the company’s 21st with its Electron rocket and its fourth in 2021. For this launch, Rocket Lab was contracted by the Space Force to deploy a demonstration satellite called Monolith into low Earth orbit.
Rocket Lab’s license from Wellington permits 120 launches per year, which it mostly uses for commercial launching of “CubeSat” miniature satellites. However, late last year, the company opened a second facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, adjacent to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, which it will use for up to 12 government launches per year.
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