Rocket Lab blasted its first rocket into space from Mahia, New Zealand, on Wednesday, positioning itself as SpaceX’s newest competitor in space freight and travel.
The Electron rocket is a small one designed for space freight, coming in at just 56 feet tall with a four-feet diameter, capable of carrying up to 500 pounds into space. It’s dwarfed by 2017’s hot rocket, the SpaceX Falcon 9, which stands at 230 feet tall with a 12-foot diameter, and is capable of carrying 50,000 pounds of space cargo into low Earth orbit.
That smaller scale makes the Electron rocket attractive to investors — the company believes it will become widely popular because it can make lighter shipments.
Although the Electron rocket officially left Earth, it didn’t make it high enough to get pulled into Earth’s orbit.
“We didn’t quite reach orbit and we’ll be investigating why, however reaching space in our first test puts us in an incredibly strong position to accelerate the commercial phase of our program,” said founder and chief executive Peter Beck in a statement.
The company will need to figure out why in short order. This launch was the first of three test-launches, which carried no valuable space cargo, but the company has signed agreements with NASA and other businesses to blast satellites into Earth’s orbit.
In the past week, more than 12 shoe-box sized satellites were deployed into Earth’s orbit from the International Space Station, to observe Earth’s atmosphere and radiation leftovers from the universe’s Big Bang, and the satellite company Planet already has over 100 small satellites in space, taking images of Earth.
Many of the Electron’s main components were 3-D printed, allowing Rocket Lab to build these small rockets quickly and cheaply. When the company is ready, it wants to launch a rocket into space once a week. Space is set to become a busy place.