Rocket Lab's Electron rocket reaches orbit and deploys satellites

Rocket Lab launched'Still Testing at 2.45pm on Sunday

Electron launched from the Mahia Peninsula yesterday afternoon, carrying a payload of commercial satellites into low Earth orbit.

"Speechless. Just like that, @rocketlab reaches orbit and sets a new bar for launch by reaching orbit on just their 2nd test", satellite-powered data company Spire tweeted.

Rocket Lab, a California-based aerospace manufacturer, fired the unmanned Electron rocket from Māhia Peninsula on Sunday. Operators of tiny satellites don't have many options to get to space, and typically have to hitch rides on launches of much bigger probes.

"This launch and Rocket Lab's presence in Auckland and on the East Coast demonstrates what New Zealand can offer for those involved in the space industry here and internationally". But with a launcher like the Electron, small satellite operators can potentially pay for an entire rocket ride for their hardware, and Rocket Lab says individual flights may start as low as $4.9 million.

Rocket Lab has successfully reached orbit with the test flight of its second Electron orbital launch vehicle, Still Testing. Its Rutherford rocket engines are created by a 3D printing process.

Rocket Lab said previously that the results of the "Still Testing" launch, if the rocket "performs nominally", may cause the company to accelerate the Electron program into commercial use.

This was the second of three planned test launches.

The flight will be the company's second and will carry small Earth-imaging satellites for U.S. companies Planet Labs and Spire Global.

"Still Testing" was originally slated to blast off during a launch window in November of previous year, but the launch was delayed after a power fault in the ground systems triggered an automatic abort just seconds before liftoff. But Rocket Lab does have five completed Electron rockets available, and expects to fly again in "early 2018". Its smaller size is meant to increase affordability and launch flexibility for customers with smaller payloads. "We're thrilled to reach this milestone so quickly after our first test launch".

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