Rocket Lab reaches orbit for the first time

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket is around one-fourth the size of a Falcon 9 and has a max payload capacity of 500 pounds. It’s definitely much smaller than its peers, but as a result, each flight only costs $5 million. Of course, it helps that the two-stage launch vehicle is powered by Rocket Lab’s Rutherford engines, which are cheap to manufacture. Those engines are primarily composed of 3D-printed components, and they use battery-powered electric motors that are more efficient than those that run on gas. That’s why it only costs around $30,000 to send a CubeSat or a similarly small payload to space atop an Electron.

Still Testing blasted off from the company’s own New Zealand base over a month after its initial ten-day window opened in early December. It was postponed a few times due to technical and weather issues, but it clearly all worked out in the end. Rocket Lab is gearing up to launch a third test flight later this year and might also be preparing to fulfill its contracts with NASA and lunar-mining company Moon Express.

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