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American aerospace company, Rocket Lab, solidified its bid in the space race with a successful orbital rocket launch in New Zealand. The rocket, which they have named “Electron”, was fired from the company’s launch facility at the Mahia Peninsula on May 25.

cartoon rocket launching from new zealand map
Private partnerships paved the way for NZ’s Electron rocket.

Rocket Lab, through a New Zealand subsidiary, aims to offer lightweight and cost-effective commercial rocket launch services. Its founders ran with the bold concept of using highly-advanced carbon composite materials to fortify Electron’s frame and structure. The carbon composite tanks are compatible with liquid oxygen. In addition, it has cryogenic valves and helium pressurization systems for reliability.

Electron is a two-stage launch vehicle which was designed to deliver payloads of 150 kg to a 500 km into a Sun-synchronous orbit. Being able to reach space as early as possible increases their credibility with the industry and offers their clients a highly specialized and challenging service.

Electron reached space after a successful lift-off and flight but was not able to get to orbit. Beck explained the rocket was successful in both the first and second stages so they’re investigating why it ultimately failed to reach orbit.

“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,” said Rocket Lab founder and chief Peter Beck to Business Insider after the launch. He added, “It has been an incredible day and I’m immensely proud of our talented team.”

Rocket Lab’s engineers in New Zealand and the US will pore over thousands of data channels from Electron’s maiden flight and optimize the next mission.

Opening Outer Space for Business

The company has scheduled at least two more rocket launches in 2017. This time they are determined to put Electron in orbit. After that, the company is planning to set a record in the space race by launching more than 50 times a year.

Each rocket launch is expected to cost $5 million.

However, even without going into orbit Rocket Lab already has an impressive portfolio of clients. They include NASA, Spire, Planet, Moon Express and Spaceflight. The company is financially and technologically supported by Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Data Collective, Promus Ventures, Lockheed Martin and K1W1.

Firms like Fleet, who are aiming to send 100 nanosatellites into space for the purpose of starting an internet of things (IoT)-based industrial revolution, are counting on the success of Rocket Lab’s launches to propel their own business growth.

Aside from delivering satellites, Beck said opening space also means improved weather reporting, natural disaster prediction, updated maritime data, and even running the Internet in space. Research and rescue services can also greatly improve with hundreds of nanosatellites in orbit.

Rocket Lab has already secured permits for up to 120 rocket launches a year. This puts them in serious competition with tech billionaire Elon Musk’s Space X which aims to start a space tourism industry and to eventually colonize Mars. He is planning to send people and cargo to the Red Planet via reusable rockets.

The Space Race is On for 2018

Rocket is Lab is just one of many companies which are serious about conquering space. Interest Engineering had published article listing companies competing in space travel technologies.

Rocket Lab has only been ranked as 11th, by “Interest Engineering.” The top 10 contenders are: Space X, SpaceIL, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, Axiom Space, Space Nation, Deep Space Industries, Bigelow Airspace, Vulcan Aerospace and Odyne Space.

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