New Zealand Launches First Rocket — Will Australia Follow?


Video from Rocket Lab’s first launch of an Electron rocket into space. (Twitter: Rocket Lab)

The short answer is more than likely no. New Zealand just joined a very exclusive club, shared by only 10 others. A private company Rocket Lab’s 56-foot test craft, Electron, has blasted off from its NZ  facility.

That launch site is on the Mahia Peninsula, located on the east coast of the North Island, adding New Zealand to the small list of countries capable of launching rockets into space. CNET reports that due to less-than-ideal weather conditions, the launch took place halfway through a 10-day launch window.

The country’s economic development minister celebrated the news, noting that New Zealand, which recently added $10.5 million to its newly formed space program, is “now one of 11 countries able to launch satellites into space from their own territory and the first to launch from a fully private orbital launch range.”

Partnering with a private company adds an interesting component to the future of space travel. “In the past, it’s been countries that go to space, not companies,” says Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck, per the Chronicle, which notes the move opens the way to space for private businesses in a way not possible before.

Days before the launch, Rocket Lab posted: “After four years of planning, innovation and discovery we will soon attempt to launch a vehicle into orbit. During the launch window postponements are expected as optimal conditions are required to proceed to launch.” (Facebook: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab designed the nimble, disposable Electron in just four years to carry small satellites that can provide services like affordable internet. Features include an engine built with 3D-printed and battery-juiced components, and a smaller size that allows for faster, more frequent flights, reports Wired.

The company plans to analyze the data from Electron’s flight to learn more about the launch and how future flights from its New Zealand base can be improved.  Source; Newser

Australia close behind with launch of CubeSats

Professor Andrew Dempster, director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research, said the Rocket Lab launch was an important milestone. “We’re in a period of what people are calling space 2.0,” he said.

He said private companies were dominating an area that was previously the domain of government-run space agencies. Professor Dempster said he hoped that Australia would follow New Zealand in embracing the aerospace industry.

“The emergence of Rocket Lab has forced New Zealand to create a space agency,” he said. “It’s very important they’ve done what they’ve done — we’re hoping to do something similar in Australia with launches recently of CubeSats.”

The first of those small Australian CubeSats were deployed from the International Space Station yesterday. But engineers from the University of New South Wales have not yet been able to make contact.

It could have been damaged during launch, or the batteries may be flat — but there remains a chance that it could come to life after solar panels recharge it.

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