With a successful test launch under Rocket Lab's belt, space is one step closer to being open for business from a small site in northern Hawke's Bay.

This week marked the start of a 10-day launch window for the Auckland-based company to test their 17m tall Electron vehicle - designed to carry small payloads into orbit at a fraction of the cost.

Unfavourable weather conditions had delayed three attempts earlier in the week - much to the dismay of the eager spectators who gathered every day at a coastal site near Nuhaka.

However at 4.20pm on Thursday, history was made when Electron lifted off from the Launch Complex 1 site on Mahia Peninsula, reaching space just three minutes later after a great first stage burn, stage separation, second stage ignition and fairing separation.

Advertisement

Although it did not reach orbit, the launch was the first successful test of the rocket, and the first orbital-class rocket launched from a private launch site in the world.

With one successful test under its belt, Rocket Lab will now be moving forward to work out any kinks ahead of commercial flights scheduled for later this year.

Although Thursday's launch was a success the work is nowhere near finished for the Rocket Lab team - their engineers will work to analyse 25,000 data channels collected during the flight to fix any issues.

Yesterday Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck told NZME this review would include investigating why the vehicle did not make it into orbit.

"The whole point of a test flight is to learn what you got right and what you got wrong and fix it," he said.

"[On Thursday] we got through all the major events of an inaugural space flight. We got a fair way down the path, it was a 100 per cent nominal flight, we were right down trajectory but we just stopped a little bit short."

He said the test flight "has put us in a very very strong position to start our commercial operations later in the year".

Before the commercial phase begins, two more test launches are planned - understood to follow the same structure as this week's.

Advertisement

Before the launch on Thursday, Mr Beck told Hawke's Bay Today that for flight tests there was no "go-fever". If the conditions weren't correct for the test "you invalidate the test, and you don't really learn what you need to learn".

If conditions are not correct during a test phase - meaning a window closes without a successful launch - the company can set up another launch time.

However, scrubbing launches does not come without cost.

Mr Beck said the company planned for this, because launching a rocket was a significant operation - particularly during the flight testing phase - delaying a flight was "not an inconsequential cost".

The sale price of a launch was $4.9 million. When asked if a scrub's cost was also in the millions, Mr Beck said that because they were in the testing programme it was not something they calculated, however he said it was "a significant expense".

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 - last year there were 22 launches from the United States, and 82 internationally.

Yesterday Auckland University space systems programme project manager Jim Hefkey told NZME the business side of Rocket Lab's venture was already on track.

"They've already sold out, as I understand it, the first couple of years' worth of launches," he said.

"The world is desperately looking for launch facilities for the new small payloads that are going up and Rocket Lab's one of the first of many that are trying."

Rocket Lab's commercial phase will see Electron fly already-signed customers including NASA, Spire, Planet, Moon Express and Spaceflight.