Rocket Labs is targeting a big first in commercial spaceflight – the first launch of an orbital rocket from a privately-owned launch facility. Its Launch Complex 1 is located on New Zealand’s North Island, and it’s now finally ready to start test firing actual launches from the finished facility, in preparation for beginning commercial operations once it’s satisfied testing is complete.
The window for the test launches opens on May 21, starting at 2 PM PT. That’ll kick off a 10 day attempt window, during which Rocket Lab cautions that it may abort launch several times during this period, since the purpose is to run tests, and not to necessarily launch a rocket successfully – the important part will be collecting data to help ensure that later launches actually do go off as planned, especially once Rocket Labs starts providing commercial services to launch customers.
Rocket Lab announced in February last year that it had acquired its first paying customer last year, with Spire signing on to fly a dozen missions once the facility was ready to go. The initial plan was to start launching commercially for clients late in 2016, so obviously the projected timeline has been pushed back a bit from those optimistic estimates. Still, that’s not unusual for private space companies, or for publicly funded launches either.
Rocket’s trying to position itself as a provider of custom tailored services on prices that are more in line with larger freight haulers, offering affordable launches for more boutique satellite operators that aren’t well served by larger launches that need to service multiple clients for not so specific orbital requirements.