Rocket Lab today celebrated the opening of a launch complex on the Virginia coast, half a world away from its first launch pad in New Zealand.
The California-based company’s New Zealand-born CEO, Peter Beck, announced that the first liftoff from Launch Complex 2 at Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island would put an experimental satellite into orbit for the U.S. Air Force early next year. The Air Force’s Monolith nanosatellite will test a miniaturized system that’s designed to keep track of space weather.
Rocket Lab officially unveiled its plan to build a commercial launch site at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Virginia’s Wallops Island, with liftoffs due to begin in a year.
The facility, which will be called Launch Complex 2, provides a U.S.-based alternative to Rocket Lab’s first launch pad on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula.
So far, Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle has flown just two test missions, including a successful rise to orbit in January. The third liftoff, nicknamed “It’s Business Time” in homage to the New Zealand comedy duo known as Flight of the Conchords, is set to launch from New Zealand next month and put six small satellites in orbit.
Orbital ATK’s Antares two-stage rocket sent a robotic Cygnus cargo spaceship on its way to the International Space Station today, nearly two years after a launch pad failure forced an engine overhaul.
The Antares rocket blasted off from NASA’s Wallops Fllight Facility in Virginia right on time, at 7:45 p.m. ET (4:45 p.m. PT). NASA said the launch could have been seen by skywatchers across a wide swath of the East Coast, weather permitting.
Ten minutes after launch, the cylindrical Cygnus craft separated from the second stage, heading for the station with 5,100 pounds of supplies. After a series of checkouts, the Cygnus will approach the station for a rendezvous on Oct. 23.
This was the first Antares launch since October 2014, when the rocket and its payload blew up just seconds after liftoff. The failure was traced to a turbopump failure in one of the Antares’ refurbished 40-year-old Russian engines. In order to return to flight, Orbital ATK had to replace Antares’ engines with upgraded RD-181 engines from Russia. Wallops’ Pad-0A also had to be repaired.
In the meantime, Orbital ATK launched two Cygnus ships on space station resupply missions from Florida late last year and early this year, using United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rockets.