Startup plans to launch small satellites from Virginia coast

19 Octobre, 2018, 18:40 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Rocket Labs on Wednesday held a groundbreaking event for its new launch pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility

Rocket Lab announced that it was searching for a United States site to launch its small rockets back in July.

Rocket Lab officially unveiled its plan to build a commercial launch site at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Virginia's Wallops Island, with liftoffs due to begin in a year.

Rocket Lab will work with Virginia Space to construct dedicated pad infrastructure at the site, tailored to the Electron launch vehicle.

Rocket Lab's other launch facility is on the Mahia peninsula of New Zealand. Seattle-based Spaceflight is partnering with Rocket Lab on three Electron launches over the coming year. "We look forward, along with our partner Virginia Space and its Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, to supporting Rocket Lab's Electron missions and expanding commercial launch operations from Wallops".

Huntington Beach, California-based Rocket Lab's endeavor reflects increasing demand from companies and governments alike to use small satellites. The option to select from two launch sites adds an extra layer of flexibility for small satellite customers, offering an unmatched ability to rapidly deploy space-based assets with confidence and precision from a preferred location.

Rocket Lab's first Virginia launch could be as early as next summer. The second rocket managed to successfully reach orbit in January. The company has launched two Electrons so far, a test flight in May of 2017 and a second mission in January of this year.

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As Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos-led Blue Origin move toward powerful rockets that could take us to the moon and Mars, another American space startup has been steadily working on launching smaller payloads that don't require big boosters. That company says it can help law enforcement officials detect illegal activity, such as human trafficking or illegal fishing, by pinpointing maritime radio transmissions.

"A lot of our systems are modular - they can be built in separate workshops all in parallel", said Shaun D'Mello, Rocket Lab's vice president of launch. But the firm's most famous cargo was perhaps the "Humanity Star", a geodesic sphere created to reflect the sun's light back to Earth. Its life span was up to nine months.

"We've worked closely with the experienced and welcoming teams from Virginia Space and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops to design a pad and processes that will enable an agile and streamlined approach to small satellite launch on USA soil", he added.

After the announcement, Gov. Ralph Northam issued a statement calling the company's decision "a great win for our growing aerospace industry and an investment that will generate jobs and increase Virginia's overall economic competitiveness".

Currently, there are four companies that have developed six vehicles dedicated to launching small satellites, and dozens more are under development, according to Carlos Niederstrasser, an engineer with Northrop Grumman who tracks the industry. The company also maintains agreements with Cape Canaveral in Florida and Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska to conduct launches from existing pads as required. Her experience in writing also intersects the IT niche, given the fact that she worked as a content editor for firms that produce software for mobile devices.

Niederstrasser wrote in his 2018 industry survey that the market won't be able to support most of the new companies.

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