According to Forbes, Rocket Lab has rolled out the first of its high tech Electron Rockets to its launch pad at Mahia Peninsula on the North Island of New Zealand’s east coast. The rocked, dubbed “It’s a Test,” will be launched shortly in the first of three test flights the company intends to make before conducting commercial space flights. Rocket Lab’s most high profile customer is Moon Express, which hopes to ride the #Electron rocket to the moon in its quest to win the Google Lunar XPrize.
Rocket Lab has developed a unique approach toward the goal of cheap access to space. Larger companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin are attempting to make their launch vehicles as reusable as possible, landing back at their launch sites after every flight for refurbishment before relaunching. The New Zealand based company has concentrated on mass production and ease of manufacturing. The Electron’s Rutherford engines are manufactured from 3D printed parts. The body of the rocket is made from high strength, light weight carbon material. The company expects to be able to build enough rockets to service potentially dozens of customers a year, occupying a niche market for small, lightweight payloads, massing about 150 kilograms.
If Rocket Lab succeeds, it will have pioneered a new launch economy that emphasizes high volume and ease of manufacturing. Very likely larger, more established companies will have to take notice and adjust their business plans accordingly.
A series of successful launches will be a milestone in the history of New Zealand as well. A successful Electron flight will be the first orbital mission from the small country in the southern hemisphere.
Rocket Lab has already amassed a number of customers that it intends to start servicing once it conducts its three test flights. Moon Express, an American based company, will be most eagerly awaiting the outcome of the test flights. The new and as yet unproven Electron carries with it the company’s hopes of achieving its own space first, as the first private company to land on the moon. Moon Express aims to be both an Earth to moon transportation company and, in the fullness of time, a lunar mining firm, exploiting Earth’s nearest neighbor for its vast riches.