Space company Rocket Lab has been inundated with messages from around the world after successfully launching its Electron rocket into orbit.

At approximately 2.45pm yesterday its second rocket 'Still Testing' was launched from Mahia peninsula, successfully reaching orbit before deploying eight and a half minutes later.

Chief executive Peter Beck said the day marked a new era in commercial access to space.


"We're thrilled to reach this milestone so quickly after our first test launch," Beck said.

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"Our incredibly dedicated and talented team have worked tirelessly to develop, build and launch Electron. I'm immensely proud of what they have achieved today."

There would be a third test launch - into Sun-synchronous orbit of between 300km and 500km above the Earth's surface - before the company could move into commercial missions.

International scientists and organisations were quick to congratulate the company on its success.

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Blast off! Rocket Lab successfully reaches orbit on second attempt

George Sowers, former chief scientist and vice-president of United Launch Alliance - a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing - welcomed New Zealand to what he said was a short list of countries with a successful launch system.

"Very nice launch. My heartiest congratulations to the Rocket Lab team."

"After 30 years in the launch industry with hundreds of launches, each one is still a thrill.

"And I must say, the geographic setting of the launchpad is the most scenic in the world. The obvious excitement of the team is evidence of the huge amount of work and perseverance required to get into space."

San Francisco-based satellite company Spire Global, which partners with Rocket Lab said, "Speechless. Just like that, Rocket Lab reaches orbit and sets a new bar for launch by reaching orbit on just their second test. Today is a huge win."

Rocket Lab's 'Still Testing' rocket above the earth, shortly after separation. Photo/supplied
Rocket Lab's 'Still Testing' rocket above the earth, shortly after separation. Photo/supplied

Kris Walsh, former project manager at United Launch Alliance and former director of all NASA launch programmes for Boeing said it was wonderful to see a smooth launch.

"This success should instil confidence in Rocket Lab's customers, starting a busy 2018 launch schedule.

"The industry will be watching Rocket Lab's ability to meet schedule, but this is a milestone for Rocket Lab."

Yesterday's launch followed the company's first launch last May, in which the rocket got to space but did not make it to orbit after range safety officials had to kill the flight.

Rocket Lab earlier said it had pinpointed the problem that meant its first Electron rocket was killed before it got to orbit, with the company saying at the time that it was confident the fault had been ironed out.


Beck said reaching orbit on a second test flight was significant on its own but successfully deploying customer payloads so early in a new rocket programme was almost unprecedented.

"Rocket Lab was founded on the principle of opening access to space to better understand our planet and improve life on it. Today we took a significant step towards that," he said yesterday.

In the coming weeks, Rocket Lab engineers would analyse data from the launch.

Rocket Lab currently has five Electron vehicles in production, with the next launch expected to take place in early 2018.

At full production, Rocket Lab expects to launch more than 50 times a year and is regulated to launch up to 120 times a year, more than any other commercial or government launch provider in history.

Auckland University astrophysicist and senior lecturer Nick Rattenbury said the company's ability to get something into space on the second attempt spoke volumes about its capability and capacity.

"I did not expect to see this in my lifetime. I honestly did not expect to see New Zealand launching a spaceship," he said.

"This is a fantastic time to be alive, working in science and engineering in New Zealand and I'm looking forward to the next three years because it's going to be very, very exciting."