Rocket Lab’s first US launch succeeds after NASA delays

The company’s Electron rocket lifts off from an LC-2 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on January 24, 2023.

Brady Kenniston / Rocket Lab

Rocket LabThe first US launch took place on Tuesday evening, marking a successful mission and a welcome expansion of the company’s capabilities.

The company’s Electron rocket lifted off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia and delivered three satellites into orbit for RF analyst Hawkeye 360.

“Electron is already the world’s leading small orbital rocket, and today’s perfect mission from the new site is a testament to our team’s unrelenting commitment to mission success,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said Tuesday night.

This is Rocket Lab’s 33rd mission to date, but the first from US soil. The company regularly launches from its two private launch sites in New Zealand, with nine successful missions completed last year.

Tuesday’s launch also comes after years of delays.

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The company selected Wallops in late 2018 to build a new launch pad called LC-2 and aims for a debut launch by the third quarter of 2019. Less than a year later, the company completed work on the ground infrastructure and conducted initial tests with Electron at the launch site in mid-2020, but according to Rocket Lab, a new safety software system from NASA delayed the first launch attempt.

Beck has previously stated that NASA software development “should be completed by the end” of 2021. The head course was not completed until last year.

The software was designed to fill the role traditionally held by a person known as a “range safety officer” who monitors launch data.

While some rocket companies have developed proprietary versions of standalone flight safety software, NASA declares its NAFTU system to be “revolutionary” in that it can be used by “any launch provider at all US test sites”. NASA also says NAFTU will help save time and money associated with the safe launch of an orbital rocket, cost savings that will benefit both the agency and companies.

NASA’s completion of the system fills “a critical gap in modernizing our nation’s launch sites,” Wallops director David Pierce said in a statement following the launch of Rocket Lab.

“We are proud to have made this and future US Rocket Lab Electron launches possible with our groundbreaking flight safety technology,” he said.

Rocket Lab has previously said it expects to conduct 14 Electron launches in 2023, with four to six from LC-2 at Wallops. The company plans to release fourth-quarter results after the market closes on February 28.

Shares of Rocket Lab fell about 2% in early trading on Wednesday from the previous close at $4.97 a share. Like other purely cosmic stocks, the company’s stock has rebounded this month after a brutal 2022, with shares up about 28% year-to-date.

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