The company’s electron rocket lifts off from LC-2 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on January 24, 2023.
Brady Kenniston / Rocket Lab
rocket labThe first U.S. launch took off Tuesday night, marking a successful mission and a long-awaited expansion of the company’s capabilities.
The company’s electron rocket launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia coast and delivered a trio of satellites into orbit for the Hawkeye 360 radio frequency analysis specialist.
“Electron is already the world’s leading small orbital rocket, and today’s perfect mission from a new platform is a testament to our team’s relentless commitment to mission success,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a statement Tuesday night.
The mission was Rocket Lab’s 33rd to date, but the first from US soil. The company launches regularly from its two private launch pads in New Zealand – with nine successful missions in the past year.
Tuesday’s launch also comes after years of delays.
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The company selected Wallops to build a new launch pad, dubbed LC-2, in late 2018 and is targeting a first launch by Q3 2019. The company completed work on ground infrastructure less than a year later and conducted initial tests with an electron on the pad in mid-2020, but a new safety software system from NASA delayed the first launch attempt, according to Rocket Lab.
Beck previously said NASA’s development of the software should be complete “by the end” of 2021. But certification of the NASA Autonomous Flight Termination Unit (NAFTU), which is used to automatically monitor a rocket launch and destroy the vehicle if it does, of course, was only completed last year.
The software was designed to fulfill the role traditionally performed by a person known as the “Area Security Officer” who oversees the launch’s data.
While some rocket builders have developed proprietary versions of autonomous flight safety software, NASA touts its NAFTU system as “revolutionary” because it can be used by “any launch provider on any US launch range.” NASA also says NAFTU will help save time and money associated with safely conducting an orbital rocket launch — cost savings that will benefit the agency and companies alike.
NASA’s completion of the system fills a “critical gap in modernizing our nation’s launch areas,” Wallops director David Pierce said in a statement after Rocket Lab’s launch.
“We are proud to have made this and future US Rocket Lab Electron launches possible with our breakthrough flight safety technology,” he said.
Rocket Lab previously said it expects to make 14 electron launches in 2023, with between four and six flying from LC-2 in wallops. The company is expected to release fourth-quarter results after the market close on Feb. 28.
Rocket Lab shares are down about 2% in early trading on Wednesday from their previous close of $4.97 per share. Like other space-only stocks, the company’s stock has regained some ground this month after a brutal 2022, with shares up about 28% year-to-date.
https://www.cnbc.com/2023/01/25/rocket-lab-us-launch-success.html Rocket Lab’s first US launch is a success after NASA delays