Rocket Lab launch site
A still from a video released by Rocket Lab in August showing its launch site, on Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand's North Island, nearing completion. Credit: Rocket Lab

WASHINGTON — A launch site nearing completion in New Zealand for use by a new small launch vehicle survived a major earthquake there unscathed, according to the company building it.

A magnitude 7.1 earthquake took place off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island at 12:37 p.m. Eastern Sept. 1 (4:37 a.m. Sept. 2 local time). The earthquake had its epicenter 166 kilometers northeast of the city of Gisborne, which is about 100 kilometers north of a launch pad being built by Rocket Lab on the island’s Mahia Peninsula.

Catherine Moreau Hammond, a spokeswoman for Rocket Lab, said that an inspection of the launch site showed no signs of damage. “Everything is as expected and was not impacted by the earthquake,” she said Sept. 1.

The company is in the final steps of constructing the site, which will host launches of its Electron small launch vehicle. The company said last month it had recently installed a 50-ton launch platform at the site, the last major piece of infrastructure needed there for launches.

Rocket Lab, headquartered in the United States but with most of its operations in New Zealand, plans to begin test launches of the Electron later this year, but has not provided a firm timetable for its first launch. “We’re getting close to launch in the next few months,” Brad Schneider, the executive vice president and general manager of Rocket Lab said Aug. 8 during a panel session on small launch vehicles at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

Schneider said that commercial launches of Electron would begin late in the first quarter of 2017, with a “nice” manifest of missions through 2018. Among the company’s customers is NASA, which awarded Rocket Lab a Venture Class Launch Services contract in October 2015. Rocket Lab also has contracts with Moon Express for launching lunar lander missions starting in 2017, and with Planet for the launch of remote sensing cubesats, also starting in 2017.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...