Rocket Lab USA Inc. launched its first rocket to space from the Virginia coast. At 6 pm local time, an Electron rocket took off from the company’s new launchpad, located on Wallops Island, Virginia, carrying a trio of small satellites to orbit.
Rocket Lab, based in Long Beach, California, is mainly focused on launching small satellites. It has conducted all of its previous missions and test flights from the company’s launch facility on the Mahai Peninsula in New Zealand since 2017. The new Virgina facility will provide the company with more scheduling options, said Chief Executive Officer Peter Beck.
“We have the luxury and flexibility to move between launch sites to maintain customer cadence,” Beck said in a call with reporters in December.
The Wallops site should give the company “more than 130 launch opportunities every year,” according to the company’s website.
The launch lofted three satellites into low Earth orbit for HawkEye 360, a geospatial analytics company. It was also the first scheduled launch of the year for Rocket Lab. The company had hoped to get this mission off the ground in December, but was forced to delay due to bad weather. The company also hit snags back in December, as Nasa and the Federal Aviation Administration needed extra time to complete approval of a launch license.
The launch was four years in the making, earlier delayed by the pandemic and work needed to certify the flight termination system, which destroys the rocket in the event it goes off course. Rocket Lab first announced plans to build a US-based launch site in July of 2018.
The launch site is located at Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, within Nasa’s Wallops Flight Facility, which is home to periodic cargo missions to the International Space Station and other space missions. With Tuesday’s successful launch, Rocket Lab is anticipating robust demand for 2023.
“There’s been a number of launches that are kind of pent up to be launched out of
Virginia,” Beck said.
Shares of the startup closed at $4.97. That compares with a high of $20.72 in September 2021 shortly after going public in a reverse merger.