Rocket launch nearer as firm hits milestones

By Victoria White

1 comment
Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck. Photo Geoff Dale
Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck. Photo Geoff Dale

Launching rockets from Mahia Peninsula is one step closer, with Auckland-based company Rocket Lab reaching "major milestones" in the creation of its launch vehicle.

The company is building New Zealand's first orbital launch site at Onenui Station on Mahia Peninsula. When completed it will be the launch site of Rocket Lab's Electron vehicle, with the first test flight scheduled for later this year, followed by flights each month.

The 16m Electron cost nearly US$5 million ($7.39 million), and has been designed for a nominal payload of 150kg to a 500km sun-synchronous orbit.

Recently the Auckland-based company reached "major" milestones in the qualification of several of Electron's major systems for flight, including the completed upper stage of the two-stage vehicle, which will deliver the satellite to orbit.

After successful test fires the company's flagship engine, named Rutherford, has also qualified. The engine, which weighs nearly 23,000kg was designed specifically for Electron.

Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck said, "Our team has successfully pushed the boundaries of many new technologies including carbon composite flight tanks, electric turbo-pumping and 3D printing. We're looking forward to bring the whole launch vehicle together for testing soon."

The qualification of the engine was a major milestone for 3D printing, he said, as Rutherford was the first oxygen/hydrocarbon engine to use additive manufacturing for all primary components of the combustor and propellant supply system.

It also had a unique electric propulsion cycle, making use of high-performance brushless DC electric motors and lithium polymer batteries to drive its turbo-pumps.

Another milestone had been reached with the 100th engineer hired at the company's research and development facility in Auckland. The team of engineers had been working on the design, test and build of the Electron launch vehicle as well as developing test and launch facilities.

The team's size has tripled in the last year, and Rocket Lab was currently advertising for more than 30 additional roles based in the research and development facility.

In April Wairoa District Council announced they would be creating a proposal in a bid to secure the manufacturing facility.

A Rocket Lab spokeswoman had said the company was evaluating multiple sites for the manufacture and maintenance of its vehicles in New Zealand but at this stage no decision had been made.

Napier MP Stuart Nash said the Mahia launch site had massive potential. "The fact they've chosen to do this in the Bay is fantastic. It's such an exciting opportunity."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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