New Zealand has had an historically quiet role in the international aerospace industry – providing people, research and support and leaving the high-profile achievements in space discovery and exploration to leaders such as the United States, Russia, Europe and, more recently, China and India.
However, on Sunday 21 January 2018 the country’s profile soared to a whole new level, as Rocket Lab used its New Zealand base to launch the Electron rocket into orbit for the first time. This landmark achievement was a critical step in the company’s mission to make space accessible for commercial enterprises.
Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by New Zealander Peter Beck, with the aim of developing lightweight, cost-effective and high-frequency rocket launch services. Electron is a 17-metre-high, carbon-composite launch vehicle that can carry payloads of up to 225 kilograms (such as small satellites) into low orbit. These commercial flights could in turn enable satellite-based services, for example affordable internet, and boost Earth-based activities such as environmental monitoring and search and rescue.
Although the successful launch was technically a test, Electron carried three customer payloads – 2x weather satellites and 1x Earth-obervation satellite.In addition to these satellites the ‘Humanity Star’ was also deployed. The Humanity Star will rotate Earth and be visible to the naked eye. With a focus on environmental sustainability, all three satellites and the Humanity Star are programmed to fall back towards Earth after use and disintegrate on reaching Earth’s atmosphere.
Rocket Lab’s New Zealand launch site is at the tip of Mahia Peninsula, an isolated location between Napier and Gisborne on the North Island’s east coast. The first orbital launch site in New Zealand, and the first privately operated orbital launch site in the world, it’s an ideal location for launching satellites to provide services around the world. Stamp sheet background image – Sam Taylor