Fleet Space Technologies gets first two satellites in orbit

The space race is a lot different than it used to be. Instead of moon landings, it’s about delivering satellites into orbit quickly and affordably. New Zealand-founded Rocket Lab got a big leg up on the competition on Nov. 11 with its successful space launch of its Electron rocket with a payload of six small satellites and a drag sail demonstrator.

From its spaceport on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand’s North Island, Rocket Lab fired off its first commercial launch in what’s being hailed as a breakthrough in the business of space. The two-stage rocket cost less $8 million Australian, a far cry from the hundreds of millions it used to cost private companies to have their satellites hitch a ride on state-sponsored rocket launches.

“The world is waking up to the new normal. With the Electron launch vehicle, rapid and reliable access to space is now a reality for small satellites,” Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said in a statement after the launch. “We’re thrilled to be leading the small satellite launch industry by reaching orbit a second time and deploying more payloads. The team carried out a flawless flight with incredibly precise orbital insertion.”

commercial space launch, the venture magazine

The Electron rocket stands roughly 17 metres and is designed to deliver smallsats and cubesats into low earth orbit ranging from 200 to 500 kilometres above Earth. Rocket Lab plans a second commercial space launch for December and aims to eventually have multiple launches per week.

Australian startup Fleet Space Technologies had two satellites onboard, putting its technology in orbit for the first time. Fleet Space was able to ready its Proxima I and II for space launch just in just six weeks.

“It is an incredible milestone,” Flavia Tata Nardini, Fleet’s co-founder and CEO, said.

Fleet strives to deliver low-cost satellite Internet of Things solutions for businesses by helping to bring as many as 75 billion devices online.

“This is the first launch of many scheduled for us at Fleet Space Technologies, with our next nanosatellites, Centauri I and II, onboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and ISRO’s mission PSLV C43 in the coming weeks,” Nardini said. “It is an extraordinary feat to have four satellites launching in one month on three separate missions.

commercial space launch, the venture magazine

“This is a huge step not just for the space industry, but also for industries like farming, mining, logistics and maritime who are closer than ever to having a satellite-based IoT network readily available to transform their businesses.”

Called “It’s Business Time” in a reference to two previous tests and a reminder that “Flight of the Conchords” is the gift that keeps on giving, the rocket fired nine kerosene-fueled Rutherford engines to produce 50,000 pounds of thrust during its first stage before the second burned a “green” non-toxic liquid monopropellant in a single electric-pump-fed engine.

After months of delays because of a motor design flaw, Rocket Lab can now deliver what Beck told CNBC was a “$3 billion pipeline” of cargo for clients. The December space launch will carry NASA cubesats, and Rocket Lab hopes for 16 launches in 2019, working its way to weekly by 2020.