On May 21st, a ten-day test launch window will open for aerospace pioneers Rocket Lab, who aim to capitalize on the small satellite revolution by developing a smaller rocket at a far lower price. And, it costs SpaceX $62 million (unless they reuse a rocket) to leave Earth’s orbit, Rocket Lab hopes to accomplish something similar at a mere $4.9 million per flight. They also plan to make flights more regular — the current wait time is around 2 years.
The company is able to cut so much of the cost because they are using a much smaller rocket — 16.7 meters (55 feet) long — to correspond with the decreasing size of satellites. It is only meant to lift loads between about 150-227 kg (330-500 lbs), which is minuscule compared to its predecessors, which were as tall as 61 meters (200 ft) and designed to transport thousands of pounds of space gear.
If the test goes ahead — it is contingent on favorable conditions — it will mark the first time that any vehicle has reached orbit from a private flight facility. Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab, said in a statement “Our number one priority is to gather enough data and experience to prepare for a commercial phase. Only then can we can start delivering on our mission to make space more accessible.” This could mark the end of the monopoly of space held by the world’s richest of companies: as Rocket Lab’s website emphatically states “Space is now open for business.”