Manufacturer: Rocket Lab
Cost: $6 million
Stages: 2 to 3
Height: 17 m (56 ft)
Diameter: 1.2 m (3 ft 11 in)
Mass: 12,500 kgs (27,600 lbs)
Payload capacity (to Sun-synchronous orbit): 150 to 225 kgs (330 to 495 lbs)
Maiden flight: May 25 2017
Engine: 9x Rutherford
Thrust:162 to 192 kN (36,000 to 43,000 lbf)
Specific Impusle: 303 seconds
Engine: 1x Rutherford
Thrust: 22 kN (4,900 lbf)
Specific Impusle: 333 seconds
Stage 3 (Kick Stage)
Engine: 1x Curie
Fuel: unspecified “green” monopropellant
Thrust: 0.12 kN (27 lbf)
Electron is a two to three-stage expendable rocket developed and operated by private US launch services provider Rocket Lab. The relatively small rocket was developed to capitalise on the growing CubeSat market.
The rocket’s first and second stages are powered by the company’s Rutherford liquid engines burning Rocket Propellant-1 (RP-1) and liquid oxygen (LOX). The optional third stage, which is referred to by the Rocket Lab as the “Kick Stage” is powered by an unspecified “green” monopropellant. The stage allows for the deployment of payloads into extremely precise orbits, an ability previously unheard of on small launch vehicles.
Development of the Electron rocket began in December 2010 after Rocket Lab was awarded an Operationally Responsive Space Office (OPS) contract to develop low-cost space launch systems that could deploy CubeSats. The contract allowed the company to make use of NASA personnel, equipment and facilities in the development of an orbital-class rocket. In addition to the OPS contract, Rocket Lab secured several rounds of funding between 2013 and 2017. This enabled the company to complete the first Electron rocket and prepare it for its maiden flight by May 2017.
The maiden flight was launched on May 25, 2017, from the company’s Mahia Peninsula launch facility. It ended in failure after telemetry was lost following first stage separation and the vehicle was destroyed by range safety before reaching space. Following an investigation, it was discovered that the problem had been software related and there was no larger issue with the rocket itself.
The Electron rocket was launched successfully for the first time on January 21, 2018, carrying its first commercial payloads.