• Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket on its launch pad at Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula, Hawke’s Bay, North Island, NZ. Credit: Rocket Lab
    Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket on its launch pad at Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula, Hawke’s Bay, North Island, NZ. Credit: Rocket Lab

As a NZ space launch company prepares for its second test flight of an orbital-class vehicle launched from a private facility, an Australian company moves towards establishing its own site in Arnhem Land in the NT.

NZ space launch company Rocket Lab enters a 10-day launch window today for the second flight of its Electron rocket, carrying three satellites. The test launch, titled “Still Testing”, will take place from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on the Māhia Peninsula on the east coast of NZ’s North Island. Still Testing will carry an Earth-imaging Dove satellite for Planet and two Lemur-2 satellites for Spire for weather and ship tracking, enabling Rocket Lab to gather crucial data and test systems for the deployment stage of a mission.

It follows on from the inaugural Electron test carried out on May 25, 2017, which did reach space but failed to reach its intended orbit after ground equipment momentarily lost contact with the vehicle after launch.

“Electron’s first test made history when it became the first orbital-class launch vehicle to reach space from a private launch facility,” Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab, said. “We analysed more than 25,000 channels of data from flight one, and we’re eager to learn more from this test flight. This is the first test carrying customer payloads and we’ll be monitoring everything closely as we attempt to reach orbit.”

Less than a quarter of the size of commercial rockets such as SpaceX, the Electron is designed to carry payloads of up to 150 kilograms to the 500 kilometre sun-synchronous orbit favoured by the high-growth constellation-satellite market. Customers signed to fly on Electron include NASA, Planet, Spire and Moon Express.

And while Rocket Lab sends its second rocket aloft, Australia has come one step closer to gaining its first commercial space launch site, with Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA) gaining approval for its intended East Arnhem project from Traditional Owners and the Northern Land Council.

ELA has been granted a 40 year sub-lease for a 60 hectare parcel of land near Nhulunbuy, nearly 1,000 kilometres east of Darwin. ELA CEO Scott Wallis said the Canberra-based company plans to use proven launch vehicle technologies to provide access to space for commercial, research and government organisations from late 2018.

“This project will provide a competitive alternative to large launch complexes, both in terms of infrastructure and associated launch costs,” he said.

“What we are doing is innovative in Australia. This certainly can be done, and when successful, Australia will have the ability to launch its own home built satellites, as well as satellites for regional countries that are also in need of a ride into space.”

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