Launch Complex 1
An illustration of Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1, with the new Pad B placed between the existing Pad A (left) and the vehicle integration facility. Credit: Rocket Lab

TITUSVILLE, Fla. — Just days after marking the completion of a new launch site in Virginia, Rocket Lab announced Dec. 18 that it has started work on a second pad at its original launch site in New Zealand.

The company said it recently started construction of Launch Complex (LC) 1 Pad B, a second pad at its site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula where it also has payload processing and vehicle integration facilities. The new pad is scheduled to become operational by late 2020.

In an interview, Rocket Lab Chief Executive Peter Beck said the decision to build the second pad was driven by an anticipated increase in its launch rate. The company carried out six launches of its Electron rocket in 2019 but expects to launch once a month in 2020 and eventually increase to weekly launches.

“The additional pad really gives us the capacity to get down to one launch every week, which is what we’ve always been driving to,” he said. The company current spends about four weeks to recycle the pad between launches, which he said can be shortened to two.

The additional pad also means the company can maintain a steady cadence of launches even while doing maintenance on one of the two pads. “It just gives us a lot of flexibility,” he said. “We can be processing one rocket on one pad while the other pad is being serviced.”

It also fits into an emphasis the company has made on responsive launch, which drove the development of Launch Complex 2 on Wallops Island, Virginia, that the company formally opened Dec. 12. “What we’re finding is that customers have late-changing requirements, so it gives us the flexibility, if a customer is going to be late, that we can get the next customer off quickly without cascading effects on the manifest,” he said.

Pad B will be based on the design of the existing pad at LC-1 as well as the new one just completed at LC-2 in Virginia, with minor changes. “We’re rolling in all the improvements from LC-2 into LC-1B,” he said. “They’ll all look the same, but there will be subtle things to make them easier to maintain.”

Beck has previously said building launch pads is one of the hardest things the company has done. “After we finished building Launch Complex 1, Shaun and I sat down and said, ‘Let’s never do that again,’” he said at the LC-2 event Dec. 12, recalling a conversation with Shaun D’Mello, the company’s vice president for launch. “I think most people don’t realize how complex launch pads are.”

“The team that finished building out LC-2 are getting bored, so they need another pad,” Beck joked in the interview. “They’re not fun things to build, but the plan here with LC-1 was always to have multiple pads, so we’re just moving out on our original plan.”

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...