Rocket Lab Announces New Small Satellite Launcher

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Los Angeles, California, July 29, 2014  — Rocket Lab announced today its plan to revolutionize the global space industry with the creation of Electron, a lightweight, cost-effective rocket, making it easier for companies to launch small satellites into orbit.

Rocket Lab is building the world’s first carbon-composite launch vehicle at its Auckland, New Zealand facility. The development of Electron will reduce the price of delivering a satellite into orbit. At a cost of less than $5 million dollars, this represents a drastic cost reduction compared to existing dedicated launch services[1].

The lead-time for businesses to launch a satellite will also be reduced from years[2] down to weeks through vertical integration with Rocket Lab’s private launch facility. Rocket Lab has already garnered strong commercial demand with commitments for its first 30 launches.

Electron is 18m in length, 1m diameter and will weigh more than 10 tons. This will be the first vehicle of its class capable of delivering payloads up to 100kg into low Earth orbits (LEO).[3]

Peter Beck founded the company in 2007 with the vision of eliminating the commercial barriers to space. Until now, rockets have remained prohibitively large and expensive, despite the trend for satellites to become smaller, more capable and affordable. Rocket Lab will help to fulfill the deficit in launch systems by helping to break the cost barrier to commercial ventures and for the emerging satellite constellation markets.

“The innovation behind Electron will release the limitations on launching small satellites. Our vision at Rocket Lab is to make space commercially viable and more accessible than ever, doing what the Ford Model T did for consumer automobiles. This technology will really open space for business,” said Mr. Beck, CEO, Rocket Lab.

“Along with benefits for commercial enterprises, cheaper and faster space access has the potential to lead to more accurate weather prediction, global high speed Internet access, as well as real-time monitoring of the impacts of human development,” said Mr. Beck.

Rocket Lab’s principal funder is top-tier Silicon Valley venture firm, Khosla Ventures, which has a long track record of backing breakthrough technologies that revolutionize industries.

Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures, says it is exciting to see to the technology and innovation coming out of Rocket Lab.

“We are thrilled to be investing in the next chapter of Rocket Lab’s development as they drive down the cost of launch vehicles to provide greater access to space,” said Mr. Khosla.

“The company’s technical innovations will truly transform the space industry.”

[1] The average price of a dedicated launch service is $133 million (USD). Source: Launces 2014: A Review of 2013 Launches and Payloads by The Tauri Group.

[2] Source: Work Commences on Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) Designs by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

[3] LEO is an orbit around Earth with an altitude between 160 kilometres, with an orbital period of around 88 minutes, and 2,000 kilometres, with an orbital period of around 127 minutes.

Electron: Fast Facts

  • Lift off mass: 10,500kg
  • Propellant mass: 9,200kg
  • Propellants: Liquid oxygen and kerosene
  • Length: 18m
  • Diameter: 1m
  • Top speed: 27,500kph
  • Maximum engine thrust : 146,000 N (14.8 tonnes)
  • Engine equivalent power: 530,000hp
  • Nominal orbit: 500km circular sun synchronous
  • Nominal payload: 110kg

About Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab is an aerospace company founded in 2007 by New Zealander, Peter Beck. The company is focused on delivering innovative, high quality technologies to the space industry.

Rocket Lab was created to cater to the growing requirement within the international market for fast, low cost methods of delivering payloads to space. Since inception, the company has successfully developed a number of leading rocket-based systems, from sounding rockets through to new advanced propulsion technologies.

Rocket Lab is an American company with a subsidiary and head office in Auckland, New Zealand.

Rocket Lab was the first private company to reach space in the southern hemisphere in 2009 with its Atea 1 suborbital sounding rocket. Following this success the company won contracts with aerospace giants Lockheed Martin, DARPA and Aeroject Rocketdyne.

Editor’s Note: Vinod Khosla is a leading Silicon Valley venture capitalist who is famous for founding Sun Microsystems. Here’s a brief biography from the Khosla Ventures website:

Vinod Khosla is an entrepreneur, investor and technologist. He is the founder of Khosla Ventures; a firm focused on assisting entrepreneurs to build impactful new energy and digital technology companies. Vinod was a co-founder of Daisy Systems, the first significant computer-aided design system for electrical engineers. The company went on to achieve significant revenue, profits and an IPO. He also was the founding CEO of standards-based Sun Microsystems, where he built workstations for software developers and pioneered open systems and commercial RISC processors.

During his tenure at Sun Microsystems, Vinod worked closely with board member, John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers (KPCB); he eventually joined KPCB. While there, he played a crucial role in taking on Intel’s monopoly by building and growing semiconductor company, Nexgen, which eventually was acquired by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). Nexgen/AMD was the only microprocessor to have significant success against Intel. Thereafter, Vinod helped incubate the idea and business plan for Juniper Networks to take on Cisco System’s dominance of the router market. He also was involved in the formulation of the early advertising based search strategy for Excite. In addition to his many other contributions at KPCB, he helped transform the moribund telecommunications business and its archaic SONET implementations with Cerent Corporation, which was acquired by Cisco Systems in 1999 for $7.2 billion.

  • eclectic_student

    Compare: Falcon 1
    Height: 21.3m
    Diameter: 1.7m
    Mass: 38,555 kg
    Stages: 2
    Max thrust: 454 kN
    Payload to LEO: 180 kg shown, 670 kg theoretical
    Cost: $5.9 million in 2005, rose to $9 million by 2009 (after successful flights)

  • mzungu

    I would of prefer solid for something this size, so I can also sell it to the Air Force to shoot them Chinese or Russian satellites at moments of notice when the commercial side of things slows down(or vaporize, depend how you’ll sees it).

  • Aerospike

    Rocket Lab is building the world’s first carbon-composite launch vehicle at its Auckland, New Zealand facility.
    Well I guess Firefly Space Systems beat them on the announcement of the “worlds first carbon-composite rocket”. Let’s see who actually manages to build/launch one first :)

  • Tonya

    A somewhat unfortunate camera angle used in the final shot…

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Yep at $4.9 million for 110 kg, that’s nearly $45,000 per kg. Way cheaper than the shuttle but slightly more expensive than SLS. F9 is just under $5,000 per kg.

  • eclectic_student

    Yes, that’s true, but if you were planning to launch a ~100 kg payload, the F9 is about $60 million more. Or, put differently, there are likely many people whose budget might go to $5 million, but not to $60 million+. Or so the small launchers hope.

    It’s the old CostCo dilemma, you can buy a 55 gal drum of milk for a stupendously cheap unit price, but as a single person you may be better off buying a much smaller quantity at a higher unit price, and not throwing out a lot of unused product.

    Both ways of viewing it are valid, meaning customers might rationally fit in either group, and a robust launch market might support both.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Most of what you say is bleeding obvious, except the last sentence, which is obviously wrong.

    Price is not the big issue. 100kg sats can get secondary payload rides…if they are prepared to wait for the opportunity. This service is about prompt launch opportunities to specific orbits. $5 million is not a bad price for a dedicated launch in todays (and yesterdays) market. But the only “robust” launch market must be based on reusable launchers and $5m for 110kg in a the reusable launcher world of tomorrow is too much. Launchers of this type have only a few years of limited opportunity.

    I wish them luck, but they must evolve toward reusable launch systems and lower prices to survive more than a few years. Income from their mono-propellent tech may give them an added advantage.