The small satellite boom received a boost as Rocket Labs’ Electron rocket reached orbit this week, successfully deploying three satellites.
The launch off the Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand’s North Island is the first ever to use a private launch pad. It marks a significant step forward in the burgeoning small satellite industry as companies from a range of industries look for ways to send small, cheaper satellites to space.
Rocket Lab says it eventually plans to be launching on a weekly basis at a comparatively low price tag of $6,500,000AUD per launch.
The American-New Zealand company later revealed that the Electron flight carried what they call a “kick stage” that is used to maneuver several satellites into different circular orbits.
The kick stage consists of a small restartable rocket engine, and during the latest test the company says the device successfully circularized the orbits of two Spire Lemur-2 CubeSats on board.
Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck said in a statement that the kick stage opens up significantly more orbital options, particularly for rideshare customers that have traditionally been limited to the primary payload’s designated orbit.
“Until now many small satellite operators have had to compromise on optimal orbits in order to reach space at an accessible cost,” Beck says. “The kick stage releases small satellites from the constricting parameters of primary payload orbits and enables them to full reach their potential, including faster deployment of small satellite constellations and better positioning for Earth imaging.”
Australian National University astrophysicist Brad Tucker told the ABC that the launch was especially significant because it showed that it was no longer necessary to be a big government agency to go to space.
“Rocket Lab is a small start-up, a few people and a dream— it really shows what can happen in the modern day space area,” Professor Tucker said.