Rocket Lab’s ridiculously beautiful New Zealand launch site.
If you’re going to build a brand new rocket launch site, you might as well locate it in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
Rocket Lab, a new private spaceflight company, did just that when it constructed its new facility in New Zealand. It plans to start launching its small Electron rocket off this picturesque cliff in Mahia, about 350 miles southeast of Auckland, as early as Wednesday for its first-ever test flight.
The company has been forced to call off multiple launch attempts over the last few days due to poor weather conditions, but this first launch — appropriately named "it’s a test" by the company — could take flight any day through June 1.
Once the Electron does launch, it will mark the first real demonstration of the Rocket Lab launcher, which they hope will help reduce the cost of getting small satellites to space for companies around the world.
"This is a significant milestone for Rocket Lab and the space industry globally," Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s CEO, said in a statement.
"We are about to enter the next phase of the Electron program, which will see the culmination of years of work from our dedicated team here at Rocket Lab."
Eventually, the company hopes to have multiple launch sites in the U.S. as well as its site in New Zealand. The location isn’t random, since the country’s location is a great place to launch payloads into polar orbits.
Image: rocket lab
The Electron rocket in New Zealand.
Rocket Lab isn’t the only company trying to get into the small launcher business. Companies like Virgin Galactic are hoping to use small rockets or even plane-based launchers to get smaller payloads to orbit for paying customers.
And there seems to be quite a market for those kinds of launches.
At the moment, anyone hoping to launch small satellites — like small Earth-imaging tools for instance — are really only able to do that as secondary payloads on larger rockets launching bigger satellites.
Rocket Lab is also changing up the way rides on their rockets are booked.
Image: ©2017 DigitalGlobe
Rocket Lab’s New Zealand launch site seen from orbit.
The company allows customers to actually book their rides to space online using a special, easy-to-use web portal.
It’s that kind of startup mindset that’s changing the stodgy spaceflight industry. Historically, access to space has been open to governments hoping to send their expensive wares to orbit, but that’s starting to change thanks to the booming commercial space sector.
Now small companies and even students are starting to find ways of launching their satellites to orbit thanks to new launch companies.
From SpaceX to Rocket Lab, these firms are working to lower the cost of launching to space in order to make their spaceflight dreams a reality.
For Rocket Lab, that dream depends a great deal on how this test goes.