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New Zealand Joins Space Race With Successful Launch Of Lightweight 'Electron' Rocket (nzherald.co.nz) 48

"Rocket Lab: We have lift-off!" wrote long-time Slashdot reader ClarkMills on Wednesday. "History made as Electron launches successfully from Mahia." The New Zealand Herald reports: Rocket Lab engineers have started analyzing data from yesterday's historic launch from the Mahia Peninsula that took the company to space but not able to complete its orbital mission. Lift-off at 4.20 pm was the first orbital-class rocket launched from a private launch site in the world. New Zealand became the 11th country with potential to launch cargo into space, joining superpowers and tech heavyweights. The Government hailed the lift-off as a major milestone for the country's space industry...

"We didn't quite reach orbit and we'll be investigating why, however reaching space in our first test puts us in an incredibly strong position to accelerate the commercial phase of our program," said founder and chief executive Peter Beck.

Beck added they'd developed their rocket "from scratch" in under four years, and the company's official Twitter feed is now proudly tweeting photos and videos from the launch.
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New Zealand Joins Space Race With Successful Launch Of Lightweight 'Electron' Rocket

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  • That's great but they are 60 years late. I'm not sure it is something to be proud of.

    • Re:Hum... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Saturday May 27, 2017 @11:50AM (#54498027) Journal
      Putting stuff in space is still useful, and they are building modern rockets of their own design rather than copying 60 year old designs, so I wouldn't say they are 60 years late. IF BMW design a new car, you wouldn't call them "late" either. Also, designing and manufacturing rockets is still bloody hard, so yeah I'd say it's something to be proud of. As for how useful this is vs. buying launch slots elsewhere, I don't know. If they can do it cheaper, great. If they can find clients willing to pay for launches, great. If they learn something in the process that they can apply elsewhere, swell. If they come up with innovations that advances the field of spaceflight for everyone, even better.
      • Quite.

        I mean, even if they never become a competitive launch vehicle, the technology they develop may well prove useful for orbital/interplanetary vehicles, and it seems like we may be on the cusp of such things being economically viable.

    • did you post that when spacex reached space a few years back?
      it makes no sense lol.

  • No need to say more.

    Also, when I read 'Electron' in the title, I figured the author meant some new type of engine.

    But When You Capitalize Every Word In A Sentence, It Makes It Really Hard To Figure Out What You Mean!

    "New Zealand joins Space Race with successful launch of lightweight 'Electron' rocket."

    Now that tells me you were just referring to the name of the rocket and not some new type of engine.

    • Yep, I was quite disappointed. The '...'s made it obvious that Electron was either a name or bad description, but either way it seemed likely they were doing *something* interesting.

      Nope. The engineers just gave it a completely uninspired and irrelevant name. Uninspired I could understand - engineers aren't necessarily the most creative sorts when it comes to things like names, but at least they usually pick something relevant.

      Still not as disappointing as NASA's new Orion concept vehicle though. Seriou

    • Might not hurt to mention the company name, "Rocket Lab" - but, then, that was the first words in the summary quote.

      http://lmgtfy.com/?q=Rocket+La... [lmgtfy.com]

  • by gaiageek ( 1070870 ) on Saturday May 27, 2017 @11:04AM (#54497837) Homepage
    That's a proud feat for such a small country. Welcome to the club.
    • Also a proud feat for Silicon Valley investors, who backed the Kiwi knowhow with so much cash that RocketLab is now a US company, though still managed and staffed by New Zealanders.

    • by twosat ( 1414337 ) on Sunday May 28, 2017 @05:04AM (#54500695)

      I have a small connection to this story. One of the co-founders of the company was the internet entrepreneur and space-nut Mark Stevens who changed his name to Mark Rocket. He was one of our tenants and a neighbour to us. I still remember him feeding left-over food to our hens. CEO Peter Beck set up Rocket Lab in 2006 with funding from rocket-mad angel investor Mark Rocket who became a 50% owner until he exited in 2011. Mark Rocket is booked to fly into sub-orbital space with Virgin Galactic and was the first New Zealander to book a flight.

      http://www.markrocket.com/ [markrocket.com]

  • The most interesting part to me: "The booster is powered by 3D-printed Rutherford engines..."

    • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Saturday May 27, 2017 @11:28AM (#54497927)

      They probably use the same DMLS process that SpaceX uses for it's engines because it results in the strongest parts. Effectively, you add a layer of metal powder then melt the parts you want to use. Rinse and repeat. Thousands of layers later, you take your print out of the metal powder that surrounds it, clean it off and finally heat it up. The purpose of the heat is to cause every spec of metal to unite as a single chunk of metal. Since there isn't any stress on the metal after it's made into a single piece, the print is stronger than if you tried to machine it (much of which is no longer possible with modern designs).

  • Summer Blockbuster
  • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Saturday May 27, 2017 @11:37AM (#54497957)

    Correction: the launch was not completely successful. They were targeting an orbital trajectory, but some issue left it on a suborbital heading instead. It's suspected to be insufficient thrust, perhaps an early shutdown, from the second stage, but they haven't released much info. If this had been a paying customer, it would have been deemed a failure.

    Context: Electron is a very small rocket, slightly smaller than Falcon 1. Satellites no longer have to be the huge beasts they were in the 70s and 80s; you can get a useful satellite in a much smaller, lighter package. Rocket Lab hopes to tap that market, with a particular focus on small imaging or mapping satellites. They'll be cheaper than a larger rocket ($5M), much more expensive per-pound ($25K/kg vs $6K/kg for F9, $12K for Atlas) but they hope the advantage of picking your own orbit instead of having to share a launcher and resulting trajectory with

    Additional info: The Rutherford engine is kind of interesting. It uses a battery-fed electric pump for the fuel and oxidizer (which is standard kerolox), rather than using a preburner and turbopump. This technically increases specific impulse considerably, but it makes for a very heavy engine. The main advantage is the sheer simplicity of it - it's very hard to go wrong. I do not expect this design to scale well to larger designs - you need to move a lot of propellant, and having enough batteries to power it would be ridiculously heavy. It quickly becomes easier to just waste a bit of fuel to run the pumps - kerosene is more energy-dense than LiPo, after all.

    The design is similar to a scaled-down Falcon 9, in that it uses a single engine design for both stages, nine on the first stage, one on the second stage. This is a great way to keep development and production costs down, although if you're willing to put in the effort, you can get a much more efficient second-stage engine (Blue Origin is taking this route).

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      They'll be cheaper than a larger rocket ($5M), much more expensive per-pound ($25K/kg vs $6K/kg for F9, $12K for Atlas) but they hope the advantage of picking your own orbit instead of having to share a launcher and resulting trajectory with [others?]

      I would think that's a viable market, if you want to observe one spot because you're an Aussie satellite watching Australia you can launch in a polar orbit to make it loop the same place over and over again 14-15 times a day, which few other satellites would have a need for. If you're doing sun-sync polar or GTO or some other "standard" orbit, not so much.

    • It quickly becomes easier to just waste a bit of fuel to run the pumps - kerosene is more energy-dense than LiPo, after all.

      And the kerosene tank gets lighter as you go, whereas the LiPo still weighs the same when it's dead.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Rocket Lab is an American company launching from New Zealand

    • by Anonymous Coward

      > Rocket Lab is an American company launching from New Zealand

      The rocket was designed and built by New Zealanders in New Zealand. The company is run by New Zealanders. It happens to be funded now by Americans who own most of the stock.

    • Like how the Saturn V was done by the Germans?
  • TFA tells about 11 countries "with potential to launch cargo into space". What are the 10 others?

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