The momentous launch of Rocket Lab's Electron rocket into orbit from Mahia last Sunday has left the globe's most recognisable space agency "excited" about future possibilities.
The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) human exploration and operations mission directorate launch services director James Norman told Hawke's Bay Today that the NASA team was "excited" by last Sunday's launch and successful payload deployment.
"NASA congratulates the entire Electron team on its test flight.
"Launch is a difficult endeavour, and they were able to apply lessons from the first test flight that led to the success on this second test flight.
"NASA also is excited to see the success in the 'small-class' launch vehicle segment of the launch market, and we look forward to Rocket Lab USA performing their launch for NASA under their Venture Class Launch Services contract with the agency's Launch Services Program a little later this year."
The contract, valued at US$6.95 million ($9.49m), is for the launch of a NASA payload to low-Earth Orbit on one of Rocket Lab's Electron launch vehicles.
NASA's payload was scheduled to fly on Electron's fifth commercial flight.
The contract will provide small satellites (SmallSats) - also called CubeSats, microsats or nanosatellites - access to low-Earth orbit.
Rocket Lab's ability to put satellites into even more orbital positions is expected to be boosted, following the announcement on Tuesday that it had successfully tested a previously unannounced kick stage on the Still Testing Electron launch vehicle, using it to circularise the orbits of the two Spire Lemur-2 CubeSats on board.
The kick stage was flown and tested on board the recent Still Testing flight that was successfully launched on January 21 NZDT from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand.
The complex mission was a success, with the new apogee kick stage coasting in orbit for around 40 minutes before powering up and igniting Rocket Lab's new restartable liquid propulsion engine called Curie, then shutting down and deploying payloads.
With the new kick stage Rocket Lab can execute multiple burns to place numerous payloads into different orbits.
Rocket Lab chief executive and founder Peter Beck said the kick stage opened up significantly more orbital options, particularly for rideshare customers that have traditionally been limited to the primary payload's designated orbit.
"Until now many small satellite operators have had to compromise on optimal orbits in order to reach space at an accessible cost.
"The kick stage releases small satellites from the constricting parameters of primary payload orbits and enables them to full reach their potential, including faster deployment of small satellite constellations and better positioning for Earth imaging."