Rocket Lab is set to demonstrate a key element of its value prop with newly awarded missions set for a Spring 2021 launch time frame: The rocket company will be flying back-to-back missions for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office from its Launch Complex 1 facility in New Zealand, using its existing launch pad and one that’s currently under construction at the same site, with a turnaround time of a mere weeks between each mission.
First operational in 2017, Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand is the company’s fully owned and operated first launch facility. Rocket Lab has also since established a launch site at Wallops Island in Virginia in the U.S., and is in the process of setting up a second launchpad at its New Zealand Facility. Each new launch site will add to the frequency with which Rocket Lab can fly missions, as its additive manufacturing and robotic assembly processes currently help it produce its Electron launch vehicles at a rapid pace.
Rocket Lab recently returned to active launch status at Launch Complex 1 following a shutdown caused by NZ’s COVID-19 response, with a mission that included a payload for the NRO. This marked the first time an NRO satellite has launched from a non-U.S. launch facility, which is remarkable enough, but it looks like it went well enough that the U.S. spy agency has decided to fly more out of the same site.
While the missions are currently scheduled for “within weeks” of one another, according to Rocket Lab, this is not the outside bounds of how quickly the company could theoretically fly different vehicles from its A and B pads at Launch Complex 1. In fact, it could bring that turnaround time down to just days or even hours, providing responsive launch capabilities in line with what small satellite commercial customers, and national defense agencies, are increasingly seeking as they look to build satellite constellations made up of small, cheap spacecraft that can be launched quickly and often in order to build in network redundancy.
With all three of its launch pads online, which should happen by the end of the year, Rocket Lab anticipates being able to handle as many as 130 missions per year.