Small satellite launch provider Rocket Lab has resumed launch operations at its Launch Complex 1 (LC-1) in New Zealand, as well as production for its rockets and satellites. The company had originally scheduled its 12th Electron launch for March 27, but postponed operations due to New Zealand COVID-19 “stay at home orders.”
Rocket Labs says it conducted a successful wet dress rehearsal on May 7. A new launch window is expected to be announced shortly. The latest mission will launch payloads for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra Space.
“Our focus in recent years has been to structure Rocket Lab’s teams and operations in a way that enables rapid production and launch capability in order to respond quickly to our customers’ needs and spool up launch operations within days,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck. “We built our team and facilities with a focus on flexibility and responsiveness, and while we didn’t think a global pandemic would be the reason for demonstrating rapid launch capability, we’re able to put it into practice now.”
Rocket Lab says “accelerated manufacturing processes” are in place to deliver a launch vehicle every 18 days to meet its launch manifest for the remainder of the year and into 2020. The company says it has maintained its entire workforce and continued placing orders with its suppliers, many that are small businesses in the U.S. and New Zealand.
The company posted pictures of Electron rockets on both the LC-1 pad in New Zealand and its new LC-2 pad in Virginia, as well as one of the second stage for mission 13 being live-fire tested. Beck said via Twitter he expects the company to attempt a first stage recovery on mission 17, which would be sometime later this year given the company’s launch pace. No date has been set for launch operations to commence from Wallops Island, Virginia at LC-2.
Rocket Lab could soon have some competition in the small satellite launch space. Virgin Orbit is expected to attempt its first launch as early as late May, according to Spaceflight Now. Firefly Aerospace expects to make its first attempt over the summer, carrying a number of small satellites into orbit.