Rocket Lab announces order for 10 Electron launches from new Dubai company

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LOGAN, Utah — Rocket Lab announced an agreement Aug. 7 with a new Dubai-based smallsat company for 10 launches of its Electron small rocket.

The deal, signed during the AIAA/Utah State University Conference on Small Satellites here, features 10 dedicated Electron launches starting in the fourth quarter of 2019. Those launches are planned to take place either from Rocket Lab’s existing New Zealand launch site or one the company plans to develop in the United States.

The agreement also served to announce the existence of Circle Aerospace, a company based in Dubai that plans to be a “one-stop shop” for smallsat customers in the Middle East. The company says it will handle manufacturing of smallsats and the operations. Rocket Lab will be the exclusive launch provider for those spacecraft.

“Circle aims to advance the space industry in the Middle East,” said Mohammed Al Saif, founder of Circle Aerospace, in a company statement. “Our goal is to push the envelope of space commerce, innovation, education, and research.”

Circle Aerospace has revealed few other details about its company, other than it has an unnamed “cadre of seasoned space professionals, renowned tech investors, and regulatory specialists.” The company plans to disclose more details about its plans, including its inaugural mission in late 2019, during an “official grand opening” in January.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Circle Aerospace to provide their small satellite customers with rapid, repeatable and reliable access to orbit,” Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, said in a statement. “The space industry is experiencing significant growth globally and we welcome the opportunity to support Circle Aerospace in developing the industry in the UAE and [Gulf Cooperation Council] regions.”

Separately, Rocket Lab announced Aug. 7 a memorandum of understanding with Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation regarding hosted payloads on Electron launches. Under that agreement, Ecliptic will supply payloads from its customers that remain attached to the Electron’s kick stage after deployment of satellites on a given mission.

One such hosted payload will be flown on the next Electron launch, now scheduled for early November. A drag sail technology demonstrator called NABEO, developed by German company High Performance Space Structure Systems GmBH, will be tested on the kick stage after it deploys the other satellites on that flight. Ecliptic handled the payload integration as a pathfinder for this new agreement.

Ecliptic plans to fly hosted payloads on Electron launches roughly once a quarter, starting in the first quarter of 2019. That mission will feature a two-kilogram hosted payload provided by Ecliptic and Beyond Sensors LLC, with later missions carrying hosted payloads weighing up to 25 kilograms.

“Rocket Lab is poised to be one of the leading launch service providers globally for the small satellite and small payload community,” Rex Ridenoure, chief executive of Ecliptic, said in a statement. “We’re eager to work with their capable team to define this new program and provide opportunities for near-term, frequent, reliable and cost-effective access to space for customers who need more mission length than suborbital platforms provide but don’t require a dedicated satellite or complex space platform to accomplish their objectives.”

In an Aug. 6 interview here, Beck said he saw opportunities for regularly flying hosted payloads on the Electron’s upper stage based on interest from potential customers. “People came to us, asking, ‘Hey can you do this?’” he said.