December 12 ribbon cutting ceremony at NASA Wallops for Rocket Lab LC-2 pad (Source: Doug Mohney)

Rocket Lab cuts ribbon on US launch site in Virginia

On December 12, Rocket Lab officially opened its Launch Complex 2 (LC-2) launch site at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia. It is Rocket Lab’s first U.S. launch site with the first mission expected in the second quarter of 2020, a dedicated flight for the U.S. Air Force.

Construction on LC-2 started in February 2019 with Rocket Lab and other invited officials claiming the 10 month project set a world record as the fastest launch site built. LC-2 is designed to support “rapid call-up” missions, providing a responsive launch capability for U.S. government small satellites on U.S. soil.

“Rocket Lab’s launch site at the Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia, strengthens the United States’ ability to provide responsive and reliable access to space.  We look forward to Rocket Lab successfully launching the STP-27RM mission from Launch Complex 2 next spring, which will test new capabilities that we will need in the future,” said Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise.

Exactly how fast rapid will be in terms of specific numbers seems to be open for discussion. “Can we do it in two weeks? Twenty-four hours? What are those restraints?,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Megan Thrush. “The objective is to flesh it out on various activities.”

Rocket Lab’s LC-2 press release suggests the potential time frame for rapidly launching satellites may be “a matter of hours.” Company officials said secure facilities are being built to process up to two Electron rockets at once with space to add more two clean rooms in the future for the ability to process up to four Electrons at a time.

The first mission launched from LC-2 will be the Monolith space weather satellite being built by the US Air Force Research Laboratory. Size and weight of the satellite have not been disclosed at this time, but a “large aperture” payload will be on board.

“It’s an honor and privilege to be launching a U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program payload as the inaugural mission from Launch Complex 2. We’ve already successfully delivered STP payloads on Electron from Launch Complex 1, and we’re proud to be providing that same rapid, responsive, and tailored access to orbit from U.S. soil,” says Rocket Lab Founder and Chief Executive Peter Beck.

Rocket Lab expects LC-2 to have a launch cadence of roughly once a month, with most missions performed for the U.S. government due to its location on U.S. soil. LC-1 in New Zealand will continue to be the company’s high-volume launch facility for commercial customers, with the capability to launch up to 120 times per year due to its location.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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