Rocket Lab, one of the most successful space ventures since SpaceX, launched its Electron rocket for the first time Tuesday evening from NASA’s Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va.
The Electron rocket launched from a refurbished launch pad around 6pm and is visible from the DC metropolitan area. The California-based company has previously launched rockets from its facility in New Zealand, but hopes to fly out of the United States more often.
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The Wallops facility is close to Chincoteague and has been in use for decades. In addition to the Rocket Lab, it is also home to Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket, which flies cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station.
A few years ago, Rocket Lab moved and added a commercial company that Virginia hopes will grow into its list of thriving space companies operating in the field. The company looked at other sites in the United States, such as the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, but ultimately chose Wallops, in part because of its ability to expand its operations there.
“KSC is a great series, but I think everyone should agree, it’s pretty busy,” said Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab, in a phone call with reporters last year. “Whereas here we can achieve almost the same orbits outside of Virginia. The range isn’t that dense, and there’s a lot of room to grow.”
With its small size of just under 60 feet, Electron is designed to carry small satellites in a short time. This is a capability of particular interest to the Pentagon and the US intelligence community. Another reason for Rocket Lab to choose Wallops is; It’s just over three hours’ drive from Washington.
Tuesday’s launch was delayed from December. The rocket was launched in Herndon, Va., which operates satellites that can detect radio frequencies. It carried three satellites manufactured by HawkEye 360, a US-based company. A little over an hour after launch, the company said the satellites were successfully deployed.
In addition to launching the Electron, the company plans to fly the much larger Neutron rocket from Wallops. This rocket is intended to be reusable – once launched into space it would spin and fly back to the launch pad. Beck said the company will now attempt to land Neutron on its maiden flight, scheduled for 2024.
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