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Electron is a two-stage orbital expendable launch vehicle (with an optional third stage) developed by the American aerospace company Rocket Lab to cover the commercial small satellite launch segment (CubeSats).[10] Its Rutherford engines, manufactured in California, are the first electric-pump-fed engine to power an orbital rocket.[11]

Electron rocket logo.svg
Electron Orthographic.png
FunctionOrbital launch vehicle
ManufacturerRocket Lab
Country of originUnited States[1][2][3]
New Zealand[4]
Cost per launchAbout US$6 million[5]
Height17 m (56 ft)[6]
Diameter1.2 m (3 ft 11 in)[6]
Mass12,500 kg (27,600 lb)[7]
Payload to 500 km SSO[6]150–225 kg (330–495 lb)[6]
Associated rockets
ComparableShavit, Kaituozhe-1, Unha, Prime, Miura 5.
Launch history
Launch sites
Total launches6
First flight25 May 2017
Last flight5 May 2019
First stage
Diameter1.2 m (3 ft 11 in)[6]
Engines9 × Rutherford[6]
ThrustSea level: 162 kN (36,000 lbf)[6]
Vacuum: 192 kN (43,000 lbf)[6]
Specific impulse303 seconds (2.97 km/s)[6]
Second stage
Diameter1.2 m (3 ft 11 in)[6]
Engines1 × Rutherford[6]
ThrustVacuum: 22 kN (4,900 lbf)[6]
Specific impulse333 seconds (3.27 km/s)[6]
Third stage (optional)
Engines1 × Curie[8]
ThrustVacuum: 0.12 kN (27 lbf)[8]
Fuelunspecified "green" monopropellant

In December 2016, Electron completed flight qualification. The first rocket was launched on 25 May 2017,[12] reaching space but not achieving orbit due to a glitch in communication equipment on the ground.[13] During its second flight on 21 January 2018, Electron reached orbit and deployed three CubeSats.[14] The first commercial launch of Electron, and the third launch overall, occurred on 11 November 2018.[15]



Electron uses two stages with the same diameter (1.2 m, 3 ft 11 in) filled with RP-1/LOX propellant. The main body of the rocket is constructed using a lightweight carbon composite material.[16]

Both stages use the innovative Rutherford rocket engine, the first electric-pump-fed engine to power an orbital rocket.[11] The electric pumps are powered by Li-Polymer batteries. The second stage consists of three batteries which are "hot swapped", two of which are jettisoned once depleted to shed mass[17]. There are nine Rutherford engines on the first stage and one vacuum-optimized version on the second stage.[18][19][20] The first stage engines deliver 162 kN (36,000 lbf) of force and the second stage delivers 22 kN (4,900 lbf) of force. Almost all of the engines' parts are 3D printed to save time and money in the manufacturing process.[11][16]

Rocket Lab has also developed an optional third stage designed to circularize the orbits of its satellite payloads. The stage also puts satlites into a more accurate orbit in less time. This "kick" stage employs a new rocket engine, named Curie, that is capable of performing multiple burns, uses an unspecified "green" monopropellant, and is 3D printed. It was first used during Electron's second flight.[21] The "kick" stage can launch up to 150 kg (330 lb) of payload.[22]

Intended usageEdit

Electron is designed to launch a 150 to 225 kg (330 to 495 lb) payload to a 500 km (310 mi) Sun-synchronous orbit, suitable for CubeSats and other small payloads.[6][23] In October 2018 Rocket Lab opened a factory large enough to produce more than 50 rockets per year according to the company.[24] Customers may choose to encapsulate their spacecraft in payload fairings provided by the company, which can be easily attached to the rocket shortly before launch.[25] The price for delivering up to 150 kg to a 500 km Sun-synchronous orbit is about $6 million per launch, which offers the only dedicated service at this price point.[5][10][26]

Moon Express contracted to launch a lunar lander on an Electron to compete for the Google Lunar X Prize.[27] None of the contenders met the prize deadline, but the launch remains scheduled.[28]

Launch sitesEdit

The Mahia launch site under construction in 2016

The rocket is launched from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand.[16] The launch pad's remote and sparsely populated location is intended to enable a high frequency of launches.[16] The rocket and launch pad were both privately funded, the first time all parts of an orbital launch operation were entirely run by the private sector (other private spaceflight companies lease launch facilities from government agencies or only launch suborbital rockets).[16][23]

In October 2018, Rocket Lab selected the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at the Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia, as its future secondary launch site in the United States. The first launches from Wallops are planned in the third quarter of 2019.[29]

Additionally, the UK Space Agency is giving Highlands and Islands Enterprise the opportunity to develop an Electron launch pad on the A' Mhòine Peninsula in Sutherland, Scotland.[30] The location would be named Sutherland spaceport.

Launch historyEdit

The Electron has flown 6 times since May 2017. There have been 5 successes and 1 failure. The initial test flight, called "It's a Test", failed due to a glitch in communication equipment on the ground, but the follow-up missions, called "Still Testing", "It's Business Time" and "This One's For Pickering", delivered multiple small payloads to low Earth orbit. The most recent mission, "That's a Funny Looking Cactus" successfully delivered three satellites to orbit.

  •   Failure
  •   Success
  •   Scheduled


Between 2017 and 2018 Electron experienced its first successful launch, in January of 2018. Electron had also launched their first NASA launch in December of 2018.

Flight No. Name Date/time
Launch site Payload Payload mass Destination Customer Outcome
1 "It's a Test" 25 May 2017, 04:20[31] Mahia LC-1 None Unannounced LEO Rocket Lab (flight test) Failure
The rocket successfully launched and performed first stage separation and fairing separation. After reaching an altitude of about 224 km (140 mi) (planned 500 km (310 mi) at 85° inclination[32]), the telemetry feed to the range safety officer was lost and the rocket was destroyed by range safety.[33][34] Post-flight analysis determined the issue to be a very simple ground software failure rather than a problem with the rocket.[35]
2 "Still Testing" 21 January 2018, 01:43[36] Mahia LC-1 Unannounced LEO Success
Carrying CubeSats for Planet Labs and Spire Global.[38] The two Lemur-2 satellites were put into a circularized orbit by the new "Electron kick stage" which was not announced until after the launch.[22] Between December 2017 and January 2018 the launch was delayed six times due to weather, orbital traffic, rocket, and range safety issues.[39][40][41][14] Put the payloads into 500 km (310 mi) high orbit at 85° inclination. [32]
3 "It's Business Time"[42] 11 November 2018, 03:50 Mahia LC-1[43][42]
At least, 40 kg (88 lb)[47] LEO
  • Spire Global
  • GeoOptics
  • Irvine CubeSat STEM Program
  • High Performance Space Structure Systems
  • Fleet Space Technologies
The 11 November 2018 launch was successful; all cubesats planned to be deployed were deployed in orbit. The launch, originally planned for April 2018, had been delayed several times: to June/July after unusual behavior was identified in a motor controller during a wet dress rehearsal,[42][45] by a few days after a ground tracking antenna issue in the Chatham Island tracking station[48] and indefinitely after another motor controller issue.[49][50] In October a nine-day launch window was announced starting November 11.[51] Put payload into 500 km (310 mi) at 85° inclination.[32]
4 "This One's For Pickering"[52] 16 December 2018, 06:33[53] Mahia LC-1 78 kg (172 lb)[54] LEO NASA[55] Success
Multiple CubeSats for the NASA-sponsored ELaNa-19 mission.[55] They were deployed from RailPOD dispensers. Was the first NASA mission for Rocket Lab. [56] Put payload into 500 km (310 mi) at 85° inclination. [32]


Flight No. Name Date/time
Launch site Payload Payload Mass Destination Customer Outcome
5 "Two Thumbs Up"[57] 28 March 2019, 23:27[58] Mahia LC-1
  • Radio Frequency Risk Reduction Deployment Demonstration (R3D2)[59]
150 kg (330 lb)[60] LEO DARPA Success
R3D2 will qualify a new type of membrane reflectarray antenna.[61] Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for R3D2, with the antenna provided by MMA Design and the satellite bus by Blue Canyon Technologies.[62] Launched into a 39.5° orbit that is 425 kilometres (264 mi) orbit. [63]
6 "That's a Funny Looking Cactus"[64] 5 May 2019, 06:00[65] Mahia LC-1 180 kg (400 lb)[65] LEO U.S. Air Force Success
Launch is part of the "Rapid Agile Launch Initiative" (RALI) for the U.S. Air Force. [66] Was first night launch of a Electron. Heaviest payload thus far flown by Electron. [67] Put payload into 500 km (310 mi) at 40° inclination. [32]

Future launchesEdit

In 2019 Rocket Lab has the goal of launching once per month and increasing launches to every two weeks by the end of 2019. [68] Thereafter, Rocket Lab has the goal of increasing launches to every week. With the opening Rocket Lab Launch Complex 2, planned for some time in 2019, Rocket Lab plans eventually to launch the Electron every 72 hours.[56]

Upcoming 2019 LaunchesEdit

There are sixteen missions on Rocket Lab's manifest for the rest of 2019, not all are listed here. [65]

Launch site Payload Planned
June 2019[69] Mahia LC-1
LEO Spaceflight
Name will be "Make it Rain". BlackSky Global 4 is part of a constellation of Earth-observing satellites. [72][71]
2019[73] Mahia LC-1
  • Outerspace 1, 2 and 3 [74]
LEO Othernet
CubeSats built by Clyde Space for Othernet to provide Internet service from orbit.
2019[75] Mahia LC-1 Flock-x × 20-25[76] LEO Planet Labs
A constellation of satellites for Earth observation. 20 to 25 micro-satellites will be released during the launch.[77]
2019[75] Mahia LC-1 SpaceBEE 8 & 9[78] LEO Swarm Technology
The purpose of the satellites are to show that it is possible for Swarm Technology to have two-way satellite communication and data relay. They are planned to be launched at a 45° orbit. SpaceBee 8 weighs 0.4 kg (0.88 lb) while SpaceBee 9 weighs 0.7 kg (1.54 lb).[79]
2019[75] Mahia LC-1
  • Circle 1
Circle Aerospace
2019[75] Mahia LC-1
MX-1E lunar lander, originally an entry for the Google Lunar X Prize, now intended for commercial Moon missions.[82][83] The MX-1E will carry the International Lunar Observatory, MoonLIGHT, and Celestis Luna 02 to the Moon.[84] The International Lunar Observatory may be placed on a 5 km rim on a crater called Malapert to look at the center of the Milky Way.[85][86]
2019[75] Mahia LC-1 MX-1E II Moon Moon Express
MX-1E lunar lander.[82] The payloads on board the MX-1E are not yet announced. The second flight of the MX-1E is called Lunar Outpost MX-3.
2019[73] Mahia LC-1 KSM 1-x LEO Kleos Space
KSM 1-x is a traffic monitoring CubeSat. [87]
2019[73] Mahia LC-1
  • CE-SAT I Mark II
LEO Canon Electronics
With Spaceflight,[88] launching the Canon Electronics Satellite I (CE-SAT) Mark II, the first mass-production model of CE-SAT I, an Earth-observing satellite.[89] The CE-Sat II has two cameras on the satellite which has different resolutions, also for Earth observation.[88][90]
2019[73] Mahia LC-1 ICEYE-X3 LEO Iceye
ICEYE-X3 is an Earth observation satellite. [91]
October 2019[73][92] Mahia LC-1 MCNAIR LEO Akash Systems Inc.
MCNAIR will be launched into a 500 km high sun-synchronous orbit with a 97.8° inclination. The MCNAIR mission has the purpose of testing the "GaN-on-Diamond transmitter". [92]
September 2019[93][65] Rocket Lab Launch Complex 2 TBA TBA TBA
This would mark the first launch of the Electron rocket at Rocket Lab Launch Complex 2.[93]
Q3 2019[94] TBA presumably, Mahia LC-1
  • Seven PocketQubes (Alba Cluster 2 mission)
TBA Alba Orbital
Q4 2019[95] Mahia LC-1 Photon TBA Rocket Lab
Will be the first launch of the Photon satellite bus made by Rocket Lab.

See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit