Rocket Lab wants to make Model T of space satellite launchers

Rocket Labs says it has 30 launches lined up starting in 2015

When it comes to blasting satellites into Low Earth Orbit, cost can be a major detriment.

A company based in New Zealand called Rocket Labs is looking to fix that problem – at least for smaller satellite launches—with a carbon composite, 11-ton , 18 meter (about 60ft) tall rocket known as Electron that it says can blast payloads of about 100kg (about 220lbs) into LEO for about $5 million. The company says comparable flights would cost around $100 million.

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“Along with benefits for commercial enterprises, cheaper and faster space access has the potential to lead to more accurate weather prediction, global high speed Internet access, as well as real-time monitoring of the impacts of human development. The innovation behind Electron will release the limitations on launching small satellites. Our vision at Rocket Lab is to make space commercially viable and more accessible than ever, doing what the Ford Model T did for consumer automobiles,” said company CEO Peter Beck.

Beck founded Rocket Labs in 2007 and the outfit has developed rocket propellant technology for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US Office of Naval Research.

Electron will use liquid oxygen and kerosene that will fuel up nine of the company’s Rutherford engines --named after the famous New Zealand scientist Ernest Rutherford – strapped together on Electron.   With nine Rutherford engines on the first stage, Electron can sustain a complete engine loss before launch and still complete its mission, making it one of few launch vehicles with such capability, the company stated.

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Rocket Labs says launches can be slotted within weeks, rather than years of planning most conventional launches require. It claims to have 30 launches from its private launch facility in New Zealand already set to go next year.

Khosla Ventures of Silicone Valley is Rocket Lab’s principal funder.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8 and on Facebook.

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