Rocket Lab declares Electron ready for test flights


WASHINGTON — Launch startup Rocket Lab says it is ready to begin test flights of its Electron launch vehicle early next year, having concluded flight qualification and acceptance of the first stage booster.

Rocket Lab announced completion of these final milestones Dec. 12, saying in a press release that the company is waiting on international launch licensing before kicking off full vehicle testing. Spokesperson Catherine Moreau-Hammond told SpaceNews the company is imminently anticipating licenses from the U.S. and New Zealand — a requirement due to its status as a U.S. company launching out of New Zealand.

Electron, the company’s dedicated small satellite launch vehicle, is a two-stage rocket with a price tag of $4.9 million for 150 kilogram payloads to a 500 kilometer orbit. Rocket Lab created the Rutherford engines used in the first stage, along with all other primary components including vehicle structures, avionics and software systems in-house.

The first stage booster for Electron uses nine Rutherford engines linked together, and a single vacuum-optimized Rutherford engine powers the second stage.

Rocket Lab describes Electron as a vehicle designed for high-volume production. The company hopes to reach a launch cadence of around once a week after the first few years of operations.

Rocket Lab’s Mahia Peninsula launch site, designated Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, is the company’s location for the test launches. In the press release, CEO Peter Beck said Rocket Lab will continue testing Electron in the lead-up to commercial operations and is optimistic about starting the test flight program.