Upstart Electron rocket has made it to orbit for the first time

  25 January 2018    Read: 1085
Upstart Electron rocket has made it to orbit for the first time

For the first time, US space flight startup Rocket Lab has launched its Electron rocket into orbit. The rocket lifted off from the firm’s New Zealand launch facility on 21 January and put three small satellites into orbit.

During Electron’s first flight test in May, the rocket was destroyed when operators lost contact with it and ended the flight before the craft reached orbit. Now that Electron has reached orbit and deployed satellites, Rocket Lab may be able to begin commercial operations in earnest.

The three satellites Electron carried to orbit are all Earth observers that are approximately the size of loaves of bread. Such small satellites will be the bread and butter of Rocket Lab’s customers. The Electron rocket is designed to launch several relatively small payloads at once, allowing less expensive launches that don’t require tiny CubeSats to hitch a ride with a more expensive, bigger probe.

Because its purpose is not to carry heavy payloads deep into space, Electron is relatively small. It is about 17 metres tall and can carry up to 225 kilograms into low Earth orbit. For comparison, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is 55 metres tall and can lift about 22,800 kilograms into orbit.

A launch aboard Electron is relatively cheap at $4.9 million per flight. A Falcon 9 flight costs customers upwards of $60 million. Rocket Lab has customers waiting for their satellites to be launched, including NASA and Moon Express, a competitor for the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize to put rovers on the moon.

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