11 Dec 2023

Rocket Lab aims to launch new mission next week

12:22 pm on 11 December 2023
Kiwi-founded space company Rocket Lab hopes to be one step closer to a reusable rocket with its 40th Electron launch on 24 August. The mission dubbed 'We Love the Nightlife' will lift off at 11.45am from Māhia in Hawke's Bay.

Rocket Lab plans to launch a small Earth-imaging satellite for a Japanese company from Māhia next week. File photo Photo: Supplied / Rocket Lab

New Zealand company Rocket Lab is doing a dress rehearsal later today for its latest satellite mission.

It aims to launch a small Earth-imaging satellite for a Japanese company next week from Māhia.

It is the company's first since a rocket failed in September shortly after take-off.

Rocket Lab is also working on hypersonic tests flights for the US Department of Defense. These test the likes of sensors rather than launching operational payloads.

However, the aim in early 2025 is to deploy an Australian-made 3m-long "dart" made by 3D printing, that can hit speeds up to Mach 7 or 8300km/h.

With its own test capacity under strain, the Pentagon is turning to private companies in a bid to boost its hypersonic test flights to one a week.

The Defense Innovation Unit signed its latest contract with Rocket Lab last month under the programme.

The "project represents a paradigm shift in viewing the hypersonic realm as a place for aircraft, not just missiles and weapons", the unit said.

The US is at the same time scrambling to deploy a hypersonic weapon amid fears of gains by China and Russia in developing super-fast missiles.

A major military contractor, Leidos, turned to Rocket Lab in June for the inaugural launch from its Virginia site of a hypersonic "test bed" for the US Naval Surface Warfare Center.

Suborbital missions like these are all run out of the US, by the company's wholly-owned subsidiary, Rocket Lab National Security, that it set up a year ago "to serve the defence and intelligence community" with services for "the US government and its allies".

Leidos has four launches like this with Rocket Lab.

"This will enable more robust and successful developments of hypersonic weapon systems," Leidos said.

Leidos also has a half-billion-dollar contract with the US Air Force under a secretive hypersonic programme called Project Mayhem.

The Pentagon has about 70 hypersonic programmes.

"Hypersonic and suborbital test capabilities are key priorities for the nation [US], yet the DoD's ability to test these systems has been limited," Rocket Lab's senior director of global launch service, Brian Rogers, said on its website.

Its missions based on its Electron rocket provided "frequent, and cost-effective" test opportunities from Virginia, he said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs