Rocket Lab Reaches Space But Not Orbit on First Flight

Electron lifts off on maiden flight from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab conducted the maiden flight of its new Electron small-satellite launcher on Thursday from New Zealand. The company reports the booster reached space, but it did not orbit its inert payload as planned.

It was the first of three flight tests of the launch vehicle for the New Zealand-American company from Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula. Despite failing to reach orbit, Rocket Lab officials were happy with the results.

“It was a great flight. We had a great first stage burn, stage separation, second stage ignition and fairing separation,” said CEO and founder Peter Beck. “We didn’t quite reach orbit and we’ll be investigating why, however reaching space in our first test puts us in an incredibly strong position to accelerate the commercial phase of our programme, deliver our customers to orbit and make space open for business.

“It has been an incredible day and I’m immensely proud of our talented team,” Beck added. “We’re one of a few companies to ever develop a rocket from scratch and we did it in under four years. We’ve worked tirelessly to get to this point. We’ve developed everything in house, built the world’s first private orbital launch range, and we’ve done it with a small team.”

Electron lifted off at 4 p.m. local time and reached space three minutes later. The booster transmitted data through 25,000 channels that engineers will now analyze before attempting the next flight in a couple of months.

Rocket Lab has signed up Moon Express, Spaceflight, Spire, Planet and NASA as future customers. The company hopes to eventually launch about once per week when Electron is fully operational.