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New Zealand in Space

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  • KiwiSpace
  • Rocket Lab

    References

  • New Zealand has never had a space program but officials hope regular launches could change perceptions of the South Pacific nation and generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year in revenue.

    The first-ever successful launch of an orbital rocket in New Zealand took place 25 May 2017, aerospace company Rocket Lab said . The US-New Zealand aerospace company launched its Electron rocket from the facility on Mahia Peninsula, located on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island. Company founder Peter Beck, a New Zealander, said a second test rocket has been built but it would take the team at least a couple of months before they were ready to launch it.

    Rocket Lab planned to keep costs low by using lightweight, disposable rockets with 3D-printed engines. It sees an emerging market in delivering lots of small devices into low Earth orbit. Electron measures just 20 meters in length and has a diameter of 1 meter, with a lift-off mass of 10,500 kg. A dedicated launch will cost customers $4.9 million, and only requires a lead time of a few weeks.

    Rocket Lab USA, based in Los Angeles, plans to use its carbon-composite Electron rocket to send CubeSats into space. The Electron is powered by Rocket Lab's Rutherford engine, a 3D printed engine that uses batteries to drive its pumps. Electron is designed to loft about 330 pounds to a 310-mile-high, sun-sychronous orbit, so the rocket can a combination of CubeSats or small satellites.

    "Rocket Lab USA is looking forward to working to fulfill NASA's Venture Class mission objectives through increased launch opportunities from small, dedicated and affordable launch vehicles," said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab's chief executive officer. "As the vehicle closest to completion in this launch class, we're excited to support NASA and other aerospace companies that have previously been unable to reach orbit due to prohibitive cost and the unavailability of appropriate and timely launch options."

    In 2015, NASA awarded Rocket Lab a $6.9 million contract to figure out how to send tiny CubeSats — miniature satellites — to space without forcing the devices to hitch a ride on other rocket launches. The three companies selected to provide these new commercial launch capabilities, and the value of their firm fixed-price contracts, were: Firefly Space Systems Inc. of Cedar Park, Texas, $5.5 million; Rocket Lab USA Inc. of Los Angeles, $6.9 million; and Virgin Galactic LLC of Long Beach, California, $4.7 million. The first phase of launches are expected to be completed by the end of calendar year 2018.

    The CubeSat Launch Initiative enables the launch of CubeSat projects designed, built and operated by students, teachers and faculty. CSLI provides access to space for CubeSats developed by the NASA Centers and programs, educational institutions and non-profit organizations giving all these CubeSat developers access to a low-cost pathway to conduct research in the areas of science, exploration, technology development, education or operations. ELaNa Missions, managed by the Launch Services Program at KSC, provide a ride-share launch for the CubeSats selected through CSLI.

    Rocket Lab USA, Inc. proposed to develop and demonstrate how the use of the Electron launch vehicle either as an upper stage in support of the XS-1 program or dedicated small launch vehicle could employ the use of Automated Flight Termination (AFTS) technologies to reduce the cost of access to space without adversely impacting public safety. Providing the launch opportunity to obtain flight telemetry from Rocket Lab's initial test flight will enable the development of a ruggedized AFTS for future DARPA, NASA and commercial launch campaigns.

    At present, launch opportunities for small satellites and science missions mostly are limited to rideshare-type arrangements, flying only when space is available on NASA and other launches. The services acquired through these new contract awards will constitute the smallest class of launch services used by NASA.

    Small satellites, including CubeSats, are playing an increasingly larger role in exploration, technology demonstration, scientific research and educational investigations at NASA. These miniature satellites provide a low-cost platform for NASA missions, including planetary space exploration; Earth observations; fundamental Earth and space science; and developing precursor science instruments like cutting-edge laser communications, satellite-to-satellite communications and autonomous movement capabilities.

    NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) supports the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) by providing launch opportunities for more than 50 CubeSats that are awaiting launch during the next three years. The VCLS contracts will demonstrate a dedicated launch capability for smaller payloads that NASA anticipates it will require on a recurring basis for future science SmallSat and CubeSat missions.

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