NORFOLK, Va. – A California-based start said Wednesday that it will shave small satellites in circulation from Virginia, an endeavor…
NORFOLK, Va. – A California-based start said Wednesday that it will shave small satellites in circulation from Virginia, an endeavor that reflects increased demand from companies and governments to monitor ships, crops and the weather from space.
Rocket Lab said it will build its launch pad at Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Eastern Shore. It is located on NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility where unmanned cargo visits are already sent to the International Space Station.
Rocket Lab, which recently built its first launch plate in New Zealand, establishes itself in Virginia at a time of unrivaled growth in the use of smaller and relatively inexpensive satellites.
As small as a breadbread, the units circle the earth for a few years before they burn into the atmosphere. Atlanta-based consulting company SpaceWorks predicted in January that up to 2600 of these will need to be launched in circulation over the next five years.
The industry attracts venture capitalists, while companies in China and companies like Virgin have built launch systems dedicated to the smaller units. Dozens more are developing.
Rocket Lab has sent up two rockets so far, quietly called these missions “It’s a Test” and “Still Testing.” The other rocket managed to reach orbit in January.
Rocket Lab’s next commercial mission, called “It’s Business Time”, is scheduled to lift off from New Zealand in November. Virginia launches will begin in the summer of 2019.
“We are not focused on the next flight, we are focused on the next 100 flights,” said Peter Beck, a newzealander, at a news conference in Virginia.
Small satellites often have hitched rides on rockets that transport larger satellites by orbit to the space station. However, more companies offer small satellites their own launches, giving more control over their schedules and the paths to which they are delivered.
Headquarters in Huntington Beach, California, Rocket Lab plans to keep costs low with the help of lightweight, interchangeable rockets with 3D-powered engines. It’s a different plane than any space company like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which uses larger rockets to carry bigger payload.
Rocket Lab said that its load in January included a planet earthquake satellite, a company that offers customers information n about anything from floods to deforestation.
Rocket Lab said that future launches will serve the Luxembourg company Kleos Space. The company says that it can help law enforcement officials detect illegal acts, such as trafficking or illegal fishing, by identifying shipyards.
NASA also has a contract with Rocket Lab to deliver small satellites. But the company’s most famous burden was perhaps “Humanity Star”, a geodesic sphere that is designed to reflect the sun’s light back to earth.
Beck said he hoped it would remind people to look beyond daily worries and face major challenges such as climate change. “Humanity Star” fell out of the orb few months after the launch in January. Its life span was up to nine months.
Rocket Lab chose Virginia State Space Shuttle over US finalists who included Alaska’s Pacific Spaceport Complex and Cape Canaveral in Florida. Virginia officials said it could create 100 jobs because flights increase once a month.
Currently there are four companies that have developed six vehicles dedicated to launching small satellites, and dozens more are under development, according to Carlos Niederstrasser, an engineer with Northrop Grumman that tracks the industry. His company also launches small satellites.
Other companies entering this market include Virgin Orbit, a sister survey of the space giant company Virgin Galactic. It has tested a small rocket launching satellites in space from a 747 jet flight of 35,000 feet (10,000 meters). Chinese companies are also running.
Niederstrasser wrote in his industry survey from 2018 that the market will not be able to support most of the new companies. But he said it is clear that the company’s founders and investors believe that there will be room for at least some.
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