Rocket Lab launched its third Electron rocket early Sunday morning, making it the company’s first mission for NASA. The mission launched 13 spacecraft to orbit via an operation called Educational Launch of Nanosatellites 19 (ELaNA-19). Rocket Lab became the first company to fly under NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) program. The government hopes to push the boundaries of cheap, reliable launches within the budding market of small rocket services with the initiative.
“All payloads deployed,” Rocket Lab’s CEO said in a tweet. “Perfect mission.”
Rocket Lab builds small rockets, priced at about $5.7 million a launch. Its Electron rocket is designed to launch spacecraft with varying sizes, up to the size of a refrigerator – exceptional for the premium small satellite part of the rocket market.
“It’s only been four weeks [since the company’s first commercial launch last month],” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck told CNBC before the launch. “It took others in the industry many, many, many years to [begin launching rockets at least once a month,]” Beck added.
Rocket Lab announced a $140 million investment round in November, led by Australia’s sovereign wealth fund. The new funds will assist the company in expanding its lead on the growing industry of small rocket companies, including “dry powder” for scaling production, building launchpads and accelerating research and development. Beck estimates there are over 100 rocket companies in total trying to catch up.
Even after bringing in a string of successes, Beck shows no signs of slowing down. He said it’s an honor to be flying NASA payloads so quickly – though more comparable is the significance on how quickly Rocket Lab is launching.
“I think, equally important, is that weeks later we’re back on the pad ready to launch again,” Beck said. “We’ll have another vehicle out at the pad in January.”