Rocket Lab’s Electron Rocket Launch is Good News for Small Space Business

Rocket Lab’s Electron launched from a site in New Zealand on Sunday, local time. The rocket carried seven payloads, all small satellites.
Rocket Lab

A small rocket from a little-known company lifted off Sunday from the east coast of New Zealand, carrying a clutch of tiny satellites. That modest event — the first commercial launch by a U.S.-New Zealand company known as Rocket Lab — could mark the beginning of a new era in the space business, where countless small rockets pop off from spaceports around the world. This miniaturization of rockets and spacecraft places outer space within reach of a broader swath of the economy.

The rocket, called the Electron, is a mere sliver compared to the giant rockets that Elon Musk, of SpaceX, and Jeffrey P. Bezos, of Blue Origin, envisage using to send people into the solar system. It is just 56 feet tall and can carry only 500 pounds into space.

But Rocket Lab is aiming for markets closer to home.

“We’re FedEx,” said Peter Beck, the New Zealand-born founder and chief executive of Rocket Lab. “We’re a little man that delivers a parcel to your door.”

Behind Rocket Lab, a host of start-up companies are also jockeying to provide transportation to space for a growing number of small satellites. The payloads include constellations of telecommunications satellites that would provide the world with ubiquitous internet access.

The payload of this mission, which Rocket Lab whimsically named “It’s Business Time,” offered a glimpse of this future: two ship-tracking satellites for Spire Global; a small climate- and environment-monitoring satellite for GeoOptics; a small probe built by high school students in Irvine, Calif., and a demonstration version of a drag sail that would pull defunct satellites out of orbit.

Space Angels, a space-business investment firm, is tracking 150 small launch companies. Chad Anderson, Space Angel’s chief executive, said that although the vast majority of these companies will fail, a small group possess the financing and engineering wherewithal to get off the ground.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Kenneth Chang