Rocket Lab set for first launch of Electron rocket with 3D printed engine

Californian company Rocket Lab will launch its first Electron rocket into space this week, equipped with a 3D printed Rutherford engine.

Launching from the Mahia peninsula on the East coast of New Zealand, the Electron rocket is set to be the first to launch from the country – which has never had a space program. If testing is successful, it will certainly not be the last rocket to launch from the area, as the company hopes to send several more by the end of 2017.

Rocket Lab received $75 million in investment funding earlier this year, giving the startup an investment total of $148 million and a valuation in excess of $1 billion.

The Electron mission patch. Image via Rocket Lab.
The Electron mission patch. Image via Rocket Lab.

It’s a Test

The rocket has been given the apt codename ‘It’s a Test’, and the ten day launch window began on Monday (May 22nd). However the New Zealand weather has delayed first launch until Tuesday with high winds. Speaking to the New Zealand Herald, Peter Beck CEO and founder of Rocket Lab explains the launch plan,

New Zealand’s weather is unpredictable enough that there’s no point in really targeting a day. We’re just hoping during the window there’s a good probability of getting the conditions we need to launch,

The Rutherford engine undergoing testing. Photo via Rocket Lab.
The Rutherford engine undergoing testing. Photo via Rocket Lab.

Rutherford engine

According to Rocket Lab, the Electron’s Rutherford engine “is the first of its kind to use 3D printing for all primary components.” By doing so, the rocket is lighter in weight and has also driven costs and development times down.

Following initial launch tests, Rocket Lab hopes to then launch for its customers including NASA and Moon Express. The Electron rocket, with its 150 kg payload capacity, has been designed especially for launching small satellites – an area that has become a hive of activity for 3D printing in recent years.

Using an Electron rocket for launch, the Moon Express intends to mine the moon and is hoping to win the Google Lunar X Prize by reaching the moon before the end of 2017. Arizona startup, Vector has just sent its first rocket into space which similarly used 3D printing to manufacture essential launch components.

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Featured image shows the Electron rocket preparing for launch. Photo via Rocket Lab.