US space launch provider Rocket Lab successfully reached orbit this weekend with the test flight of its second Electron orbital launch vehicle ‘Still Testing’ deploying 3 client satellites safely into space.  The separation of the payload from the rocket was remotely tracked and monitored from Elfordstown Earthstation in Cork.  This is the first time a satellite orbital insertion has been monitored from Irish based infrastructure.

The Electron rocket lifted-off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on the Māhia Peninsula in New Zealand at 14:43 NZDT (1.43GMT) on Sunday 21 January 2018, reaching orbit and deploying customer payloads 8 minutes and 31 seconds after.  

Rocket Lab’s Electron is poised to be the first commercially bookable rocket built specifically for small payloads and reducing the current reliance on ‘piggy-backs’ from big rockets delivering big payloads into space.  

Rory Fitzpatrick CEO at ground station and teleport services provider National Space Centre (Ltd) said  “National Space Centre (Ltd) is excited to be part of this new era in Space development and we are delighted Rocket Lab chose Elfordstown as part of their key launch infrastructure.  Securing the Rocket Lab ground segment contract has been another major step in developing our carrier grade teleport at Elfordstown Earthstation.”

This is Rocket Lab’s second Electron test. Following the successful first test in May 2017 which launched the rocket itself, the company moved on to this test delivery of 3 weather, nautical and earth imaging satellites.

“Today marks the beginning of a new era in commercial access to space. We’re thrilled to reach this milestone so quickly after our first test launch,” says Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck. “Reaching orbit on a second test flight is significant on its own, but successfully deploying customer payloads so early in a new rocket program is almost unprecedented.”

Small satellites are a huge growth area with around 3,500 small satellites (under 100kg) expected to launch in the next decade.

Rocket Lab’s commercial phase will see Electron fly already-signed customers including NASA, Spire, Planet, Moon Express and Spaceflight.

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(Image credit: Rocket Lab)