Rocket Lab, The New Zealand rocket company that seeks to amplify the commercial frenzy, launches its first fully paid payload at the top of an Electron rocket tonight – technically tomorrow morning on the site. launch . If it succeeds, it will mark a significant new development in the highly competitive world of commercial launches.
Takeoff is scheduled for 2:10 in the morning, local time in New Zealand, or 7:10 pm Pacific time in the United States. the live stream will start about 20 minutes before that.
The Electron rocket is much smaller than the Falcon 9 we have seen so often lately, with a payload rating of 150 kilograms, just a fraction of the many tons we see sent by SpaceX. But that's all that the founder, CEO and chief engineer of Rocket Lab, Peter Beck, has recently entrusted to me.
"You can go buy a seat on a big launcher, but they are not very common, with a small rocket you can choose your orbit and choose your schedule," he said. "That's what we drive here: regular and reliable access to space."
Just as all cars on the road need not necessarily be equipped with a large rig, not all rockets need be Saturn V. 150 kilos are more than enough to pay customers and cover launching costs. And Beck told me that there is no shortage of paying customers.
"The most important part of the mission is the moment we manifested it," he explained (manifesting the sense of adding a payload to the manifesto). "We went from nothing to a full payload in about 12 weeks."
By way of comparison, some missions or payloads will literally wait for years before they have the opportunity to reach the orbit they need. Loading a few weeks in advance is unusual, it is the least we can say.
Today's launch will bring satellites from Spire, Tyvak / GeoOptics, UC Irvine students and high performance space structure systems; you can see the details of these on the manifest (PDF). This is not the first time that an Electron takes a payload in orbit, but it's the first fully marketed launch.
Rocket Lab does not have any ambitions for interplanetary travel, sending people into space, or anything like that. He simply wants to put 150 kilograms into orbit as often as he can, as inexpensively as possible.
"We are not interested in building a large rocket, we are interested in building others," Beck said. "The vehicle is fully composed, we started from the first day with this vehicle designed from a production approach.We are fully vertically integrated, we have no contractors, we do everything in-house. We have significantly increased the factories. "
"We are looking for a cadence of a month this year, then next year once every two weeks," he said. "Frequency is the key – it's the point of throttling in space right now."
In the end, the plan is to remove a rocket every few days. And if you think that will be enough to meet the demand, wait a few years.