New Zealand successfully launched a rocket into orbit on Sunday, becoming the 11th country to achieve the feat.
The unmanned Electron rocket, named ‘Still Testing’, took off from Māhia Peninsula at 2.45pm on Sunday.
Rocket Lab, a California-based aerospace manufacturer, fired the unmanned Electron rocket from Māhia Peninsula on Sunday. The launch vehicle was carrying three small commercial satellites, including one for weather monitoring and another for earth imaging.
The satellites are an Earth-imaging satellite for Planet, and two Lemur-2 satellites for Spire, for weather and ship tracking.
Rocket Lab’s chief executive Peter Beck said the launch ushers in a new era of access to space.
He said it was a momentous occasion.
“Today we debuted and successfully put in orbit the very first small launch vehicle that the industry has ever seen, we’ve ushered in a new era for access to space.”
Beck said as a result, they were hoping to get commercial launches underway shortly.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” Beck told SpaceNews after the launch. “It puts us into a really good position to really deliver on what we said many years ago, that we’re here to open up space for business.”
This is just the second test flight for Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket. During its first test mission last May, the company managed to get the launch vehicle to space, but it failed to reach orbit due to a telemetry glitch.
The company tried six times to launch its rocket, with one attempt stopping 60 seconds before take off due to a boat entering the exclusion zone downrange from the launch pad.
The company confirmed, that the rocket’s next launch is expected to take place in “early 2018”.
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.
Rocket Lab also describes its mission as the removal of “barriers to commercial space by providing frequent launch opportunities to low Earth orbit.”
Richard Easther, a professor of physics at the University of Auckland, told that Sunday was a “red-letter day for New Zealand,” thanks to the Electron’s orbital success.
“To put this into perspective, we are now one of just a dozen countries to have successfully built and deployed a rocket that can put satellites into orbit,” Easther said.
Economic development minister David Parker congratulated Rocket Lab on the successful launch, and said New Zealand was well positioned to support further development of the space industry.
“Our natural advantage of clear skies and seas, and relatively low levels of air traffic make us an attractive location for space activity.” Parker said.
Parker visited Mission Control to watch the countdown on Saturday, and pledged further support for the space industry.