DEC. 12, 2019–In a press conference this morning, Rocket Lab announced that they had completed construction on Launch Complex 2 at Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.
Launch Complex 2, which is built next to Northrop Grumman’s MARS LP0A pad for the Antares rocket, is Rocket Lab’s first launchpad on U.S. soil. The company’s debut with their Electron rocket, and their past ten launches, were all conducted at Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand.
LC-2 features some upgrades from LC-1, both in placement and form. LC-2’s advantages geographically come from being on the U.S. Eastern Launch Range, which will prove to be of great help to government agencies that would, for various reasons, rather not launch from New Zealand. Being located in the United States also allows for faster and simpler payload transfer for any agency based in the States.
Physically, LC-2 is also much more suited for rapid launch. A few upgrades, namely the ability to roll on and roll off rockets, was added to LC-2, enabling turnaround in 2 weeks, and, as speaker Air Force Lt. Col Meagan Thrush hinted, as low as 24 hours. Nominally, LC-2 is suited for 12 launches a year.
LC-2 also comes with a new vehicle processing facility, which will be capable of eventually preparing four Electron rockets at once. The new processing facility will be part of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport facility, complementing Northrop Grumman’s hardware.
While construction is complete, Rocket Lab will require some final testing prior to the first launch in 2020. Still left on the checklist is a liquid nitrogen cryogenics test, and, according to CEO Peter Beck, “[We need] to put a rocket on the pad and then do all the interface testing between the launch vehicle and the pad.”
LC-2’s first launch will be the STP-27RM mission in spring of 2020 for the U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program. STP-27RM will launch a single satellite, nicknamed Monolith, that according to Lt. Col. Thrush, will examine the ability of small satellites to support “large aperture space weather payloads.” Monolith is developed by the Air Force Research Lab.
Rocket Lab is a new-space company founded in 2006 in Huntington Beach, CA by current CEO Peter J. Beck. 500 employees strong, Rocket Lab maintains facilities across the world in the United States and New Zealand, and are the first entity to launch an orbital class rocket from New Zealand, from their Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia peninsula. Today, they have flown their Electron rocket 10 times, and are beginning to start flights from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the Wallops Flight Facility.
Electron is Rocket Lab’s cutting edge Venture-Class Launch Vehicle. A mere twelve-and-a-half metric tons, Electron is powered by ten Rutherford electropump rocket engines, with nine on the first stage and one on the second stage. It is capable of lifting up to 225kg to a 500 kilometer Sun Synchronous Orbit. Rocket Lab is currently working on developing a method of reusing Electron, using a parachute and mid-air retrieval.