Merely days into the new year Rocket Lab was making history - a trend the company plans to continue through 2018.

Rocket Lab's second test launch achieved lift-off at 2.43pm Sunday from the company's Launch Complex 1 on Mahia Peninsula.

It made history as the first of the company's rockets to reach orbit while carrying customer payloads - which were deployed at 8 minutes and 31 seconds after lift-off.

Rocket Lab co-founder and chief executive Peter Beck said this flight marked the beginning of a new era in commercial access to space.


"Reaching orbit on a second test flight is significant on its own, but successfully deploying customer payloads so early in a new rocket programme is almost unprecedented."

This follows 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.

"Successfully reaching orbit and deploying our first customer payloads means we're in a good position to accelerate into commercial operations in 2018, pending full and complete review of the flight data by our team," he said.

"2018 is all about scaling up for us - we have five vehicles in production at the moment and will be looking to increase production to meet a frequent launch cadence."

The data from the recent test launch would be analysed by Rocket Lab engineers to inform future launches.

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

By the end of this year, Mr Beck said they would be targeting a launch frequency of about one per month - then increasing this in 2019.

At full production, the company 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.


In 2016 there were 22 launches from the United States, and 82 internationally.

Last weekend's launch came after an unsuccessful test period in December, when unfavourable conditions meant each launch was scrubbed - one aborted just seconds before lift off.

Between the teams at Mission Control Auckland and Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula, more than 50 people are directly involved in launch day activities.

The rocket which blasted off from Mahia Peninsula, named Still Testing, was carrying a Dove Pioneer Earth-imaging satellite for launch customer Planet, as well as two Lemur-2 satellites for weather and ship-tracking company Spire.

It also had a secret payload - a special reflective satellite which will remain in Earth's orbit for the next nine months.

The satellite, named The Humanity Star, is the first New Zealand satellite to be built and put into space and is expected to become the brightest item in the night sky.

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