This weekend, a small rocket company will try to launch its first commercial mission.
This will not be a show almost as great as the SpaceX flight, the powerful Falcon Heavy rocket, in February, which propelled Elon Musk's sports car onto a trajectory beyond Mars. But Rocket Lab's Electron is a precursor to a new, small, cheap, capable of being launched – which may prove to be more important in the future of how companies send smaller satellite rocks to orbit.
When is the launch and how can I watch it?
Rocket Lab will launch the launch from the launch site in New Zealand on the Internet.
The launch window spans nine days, four hours each day. the first opportunity will take place on Sunday at 4:50. Time in New Zealand. (In the United States, it will still be Saturday, and it will be a late show, or at 10:50 am east time).
What is a rocket?
There are seven useful tasks, all small satellites. These include two vessel tracking satellites for Spire Global; a small climate and environmental monitoring satellite for GeoOptics; a small buzzer built by high school students from Irvine, California; and a demo version of a cloth that would draw the dead satellites out of orbit.
Why is the Electron rocket so small?
Just like Earth technology, the satellites are getting smaller and can now be launched on smaller rockets. Companies and governments now also see benefits for designing small satellite constellations to carry out the tasks that were once handled by a giant and expensive satellite. With this approach, the failure of a satellite can be manipulated by moving around the remaining satellites. It is also quicker and cheaper to send a replacement.
What other companies are building small missiles to launch smaller satellites?
There are at least 150 companies working on small missiles, though most likely will never reach the ground.
Some of the most promising are Virgin Orbit, initiated by billionaire Richard Branson; and Vector Launch and Firefly Aerospace, launched by SpaceX graduates.
Two other promising companies are Space of Relativity, which appears to be the largest part of its 3D rocket and Gilmour Space, based in Australia.