A booster a week? Rocket Lab moves towards mass production with "huge" new facility
Rocket Lab is a private space company with some lofty ambitions, aiming to one day roll one of its Electron boosters off the production line and into space each and every week. It has now moved a little closer to this reality, this week adding the finishing touches to a giant new factory designed to produce the rocket swiftly, and on a mass scale.
Rocket Lab first arrived on the scene in 2013 promising to drive down launch costs and increase access to space through a lighter and simpler rocket design. Based on the Rutherford engine, its Electron rocket relies on an electric turbopump engine burning a cocktail of liquid oxygen and a highly refined kerosene called RP-1.
The company says the reason it believes it can achieve such lofty productions goals is a vertically integrated vehicle manufacturing process, and the fact that the primary components for the Rutherford engines can be 3D printed.
It is now scaling things up with what it calls a "huge" new rocket factory covering 7,500 sq m (80,700 sq ft) in Auckland, which opened over the weekend with William Shatner in attendance. This adds to an already existing Rocket Lab base in the city, along with another in Huntington Beach, California.
The facility will house 200 of Rocket Lab's 330 staff, and also equip the company with a new Mission Control center to pull the strings on launches from New Zealand's Māhia Peninsula. Another US-based launch site is in the works, with the location yet to be finalized.
Rocket Lab has carried out a series of test launches to date, first reaching space in May 2017 and hitting orbit in January earlier this year. In April it announced plans to launch its first commercial mission, titled "It's Business Time," originally scheduling a 14-day launch window at the end of that month.
But Rocket Lab stood down from that launch window after experiencing a string of technical troubles, initially pushing it back to June, and now November. Launch complications aside, Rocket Lab Chief Executive Peter Beck said in August that the company was producing one Electron per month, and now says the pieces are in place to scale up and launch rockets on a sustained basis.
"Every detail of the Rocket Lab launch system has been designed to provide small satellites with rapid and reliable access to space," says Beck. "This requires the ability to manufacture launch vehicles at an unprecedented rate, so we've expanded our global production capability to build and launch an Electron rocket to orbit every week."
Source: Rocket Labs