Rocket Lab has moved a step closer to lift-off with the qualification and acceptance testing of its first-stage booster.

The company says the completion of the tests marks the final major technical milestone ahead of first test launch of the Electron vehicle.

The work was done on a test bed in a rural area about 50 minutes drive south of Auckland.

Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck said it was the last major test before the stage is integrated with fuel tanks and transported by truck to the launch pad at Mahia, south of Gisborne.


All primary components of the stage - including engines, vehicle structures, avionics and software systems - were designed, developed and tested in-house at the Auckland-based company. The test bed work pushed the equipment beyond conditions it was expected to encounter after launch.

It had hoped to get the first of three test launches away some time this month but this would now not happen.

"Mahia township experiences a considerable population spike through the summer and, in order to minimise any disruptions to local residents and visitors, our preference is to conduct the first test launch after the holidays," Beck said.

The launch pad was on private land at the end of Mahia Peninsula and he advised anyone interested that they would get a better look online at what the company did.

"We're going to go when we're ready. We could rush the vehicle to the pad. Unless everyone feels we have done the best we can we don't go."

There were about 20 people at the Mahai site and around four times that number at the Auckland base where rockets are being made and the programme's mission control is based. Final work was being done on monitoring and tracking equipment at a number of sites, including the Chatham Islands.

Staff had been working long hours over six or seven days a week but would get a "decent break" over Christmas.

The company plans to launch three test flights next year before moving quickly into a commercial programme.

Customers signed to fly on Electron include NASA, Planet, Spire and Moon Express. With a dedicated launch priced from US$4.9 million ($6.88m) Rocket Lab says Electron is the most affordable small satellite launch vehicle.

Electron is a carbon-composite vehicle that uses Rocket Lab's 3D-printed Rutherford engines for its main propulsion system. Electron is 17m in length, 1.20m in diameter and has a lift-off mass of 12,800 kg.

The vehicle is capable of delivering payloads of up to 150 kg to a 500 km sun-synchronous orbit; the target range for the high-growth constellation-satellite market.

Beck said: "Rocket Lab has had a hugely successful year with qualification of all major vehicle systems, completion of Launch Complex 1 and considerable growth of our team and customer base."