I can’t think of a more apt name for a rocket heading to space for the first time. A 10-day launch window opens on May 22, 2017 for Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket. It’s nicknamed “It’s a Test,” and marks the first launch of the rocket.
Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket won’t blow you away with its specs. The two-stage launch vehicle stands 17 meters high with a diameter of 1.2 meters. Much smaller than the 70-meter tall, 3.7-meter diameter of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
But the Electron rocket also isn’t trying to deliver large satellites into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit, or deliver supplies to the International Space Station.
Its payload capabilities are much smaller at just under 500 pounds. Rocket Lab and its Electron rocket are aiming for the CubeSat market. Smaller, cheaper satellites that makes the final frontier much more accessible for smaller companies and universities.
Here’s a video showing the Electron’s Rutherford Engine in action.
CubeSats range in size, but typically follow a standard of 10x10x11 cm units (U). Satellite makers can then make satellites of 1U, 2U, 3U or 6U. Each U usually comes in at around 3 pounds. That would make the heaviest CubeSat about 20 pounds.
Customers could pack a bunch of CubeSats into a launch, and for a much more affordable price. Rocket Lab is targeting $5.5 million per launch. That’s much easier to swallow than the $60 million it costs to send a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket into orbit.
What we know about the launch
The Electron rocket will lift off from Launch Complex 1, situated at the tip of the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.
There won’t be any payload on this first launch, which isn’t all that surprising. Instead, the folks at Rocket Lab will use this launch to gather as much data as possible. “There are over 20,000 channels [data] collected during the flight,” the company writes in a post. All this data will help the company improve this rocket and get ready to start placing payloads in space.
Rocket Lab is aiming for an elliptical orbit varying between 300 – 500 km (186 miles – 310 miles) at an 83-degree inclination.
But what about a live webcast? I haven’t heard any details about that. Plus, it’s a little hard to do with a 10-day launch window. Best case, Rocket Lab gives us a video of the launch once it happens. The company even recommends not trying to view a launch during the test phase because of the likelihood of postponed and scrubbed launches.
I’ll keep this article updated if we get any info about a webcast or video of the launch.