13:38 GMT +323 July 2017
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    Launch of the rocket

    Sky Skimmer: Rocket Lab Sets Date for Lightweight Spacecraft Test Launch

    © AFP 2017/ KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV
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    Rocket Lab, the aerospace company whose mission is to create rocket launch platforms that are lightweight and efficient, will begin test flights of their signature Electron small-launch vehicle on May 21.

    The launch will occur at the company's launch site on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. "We are all incredibly excited to get to this point," said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck in a statement. "Our talented team has been preparing for years for this opportunity and we want to do our best to get it right."

    The launch is just a test with no payload aboard the Electron's back — and as a test, it has the possibility of failure. "During this first launch attempt it is possible we will scrub multiple attempts as we wait until we are ready and conditions are favorable," Beck said.

    If the test fails, it's likely nobody outside of Rocket Lab will see it due to the purposefully remote location of the launch. Rocket Lab told reporters that there will be no public viewing sites, and they will only provide video footage "following a successful launch."

    Assuming all goes well, this launch will be followed by two more before Rocket Lab attempts its first commercial launch in late 2017.

    Rocket Lab originally wished to launch Electron in 2016 but suffered setbacks in both vehicle and launch site development. Beck still intends to perform three test launches and two to four commercial launches in 2017.

    The Electron will be designed to place as much as 331 pounds of weight in orbit around the Earth. It is 56 feet from nose to tail and weighs about 23,100 pounds, and is powered by cutting edge electric pump Rutherford Vacuum engines developed by Rocket Lab. 

    The Electron's main purpose will be used to launch CubeSats into space. The CubeSats are boxy satellites that weigh less than three pounds apiece and can easily be held in one's hands, but they can interface with one another to create larger and more powerful apparatuses. Each CubeSat can be launched cheaply into space due to its light and compact body.

    Perhaps Rocket Lab's most famous clients are NASA, who inked a contract with them in 2015 for one of their commercial launches and lunar mining company Moon Express, who intend to use the Electron to land a miniature version of their MX-1 lunar lander on the Moon. Several other companies, including CubeSat developers, have also signed on to launch material into space aboard an Electron.

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    Tags:
    launch, test, space, satellite, rocket, Moon Express Inc, NASA, Rocket Lab, Peter Beck, New Zealand
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