Rocket Lab Signs Spire for its Electron Small Launch Vehicle

Electron Gaining Customers Credit: Rocket Lab

Electron Gaining Customers
Credit: Rocket Lab

Cubesat manufacturers and operators are beginning to align with the emerging class of new small launch vehicles which were designed to service the booming market for tiny spacecraft. New Zealand based Rocket Lab, which introduced on-line booking late last year, has announced that it has signed a launch contract with San Francisco based Spire, which is building a fleet of ocean monitoring and radio occultation spacecraft.

Related: Virgin Galactic, Firefly and Rocket Lab Each Win NASA Venture Class Launch Award

The contract, which will see the tiny spacecraft lofted to low Earth orbit aboard Electron rockets lifting off out of New Zealand, calls for 12 launches over an 18 month period. Rocket Lab, which has also signed contracts with Moon Express, and was a winner in NASA’s Venture Launch Class competition, is building a spaceport on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula, and advertises that once it begins hosting launches later this year, it will hold the distinction of being the world’s first fully commercial spaceport.

Building Site for Rocket Lab on Mahia Peninsula Credit: Rocket Lab

Building Site for Rocket Lab on Mahia Peninsula
Credit: Rocket Lab

The Mahia Peninsula is located on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island, and with minimal air or sea traffic to impede operations, offers orbital trajectories ranging from 39 degrees to Polar.

The Electron is a two stage, kerosene/liquid oxygen booster capable of lofting 150 kg to a 500 km sun-synchronous orbit. The first stage is powered by nine 4,600 lb thrust, 3-D printed Rutherford engines arranged in a pattern similar to that of the SpaceX Falcon 9. The similarity ends there however, with the Electron sporting unique battery driven electric turbopumps and carbon fiber construction for tanks and body segments. The second stage features a single engine with expanded bell housing and an impressive ISP of 327 seconds.

Spire Global Inc. has been one of the fastest growing NewSpace companies over the last year, and recently celebrated the launch of four of its spacecraft on India’s PLSV. After announcing a $40 million round of Series B funding last July, Spire Head of Business Development Chris Wake told InnerSpace in an interview that it was upping its planned constellation from 20 to 100 3U cubesats.

Its cubesats are built to offer advanced maritime Automatic Identification Services as well as more accurate weather forecasts through radio occultation of GPS signals. The key metric is that the larger the constellation, the more frequently any given customer can be overflown. With ships passing out of AIS radio range only 50 nautical miles from shore due to the curvature of the Earth, and the vast bulk of the world’s commerce depending on maritime traffic, the company has found an underserved market tailor-made for the unique capabilities of a large constellation of LEO spacecraft no matter how small, they or the launch vehicle which carries them to orbit may be.


About the Author:

1 Comment on "Rocket Lab Signs Spire for its Electron Small Launch Vehicle"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Keith Pickering says:

    FYI, the site is near the southern tip of the Mahia Peninsula, approximate latitude 39°15′ S.

Post a Comment