Space Launch Report:  Rocket Lab Electron Data Sheet
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electrona.jpg (19324 bytes)Rocket Lab Electron

Vehicle Configurations

Vehicle Components

Launch Log

Peter Beck with Electron Mockup in 2015.

Rocket Lab was founded in New Zealand in 2007 by Peter Beck. It launched a sounding rocket named Atea 1, the first private launch to space in the Southern Hemisphere, in November 2009.  In December 2010, Rocket Lab won a U.S. contract from the Operationally Responsive Space Office (ORS) to study low cost small satellite launchers.

In 2013, the company began development of the two-stage Electron orbital rocket, designed to orbit small (or "mini") satellites.  The effort included development of the Rutherford engine, named for the New Zealand-born British physicist Ernest Rutherford, to power Electron.  Rutherford used brushless DC motors powered by lithium polymer batteries to power its turbopump, replacing the usual gas generator.

Rocket Lab announced its Electron plans to the world in 2015.  NASA awarded the company a Venture Class Launch Services contract on October 31, 2015.  The $6.95 million contract was for the launch of a NASA payload to low earth orbit on the fifth Electron, at the time expected to fly between late 2016 and early 2017.

electronb.jpg (32306 bytes)Electron Stage Testing

Electron was designed to orbit small satellites for about $4.9 million per mission. The design adopted innovative carbon composite tanks to hold both the kerosene fuel and the cryogenic liquid oxygen oxidizer. Nine Rutherford engines, each producing 1.739 tonnes of sea-level thrust at a 303 second vacuum specific impulse, powered the first stage. A single Rutherford Vacuum Engine powered the second stage, producing 2.268 tonnes thrust at a 333 second specific impulse. 

Electron weighs 12.55 tonnes at liftoff, rising on 15.65 tonnes thrust.  It is 1.2 meters diameter and stands stand 17 meters tall.  Its first stage is 12.1 meters tall, the second stage 2.4 meters, and the payload fairing 2.5 meters.   The rocket is designed to lift 150 kilogram payloads to a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit.

After the company sought and received U.S. capital, it established headquarters in Los Angeles, California and announced plans for some manufacturing to be done in the U.S. As the first launch approached, however, production, testing, and engineering remained in Auckland, New Zealand, and a single launch site had been built on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand's North Island.  The launch site was completed on September 27, 2016.

On March 21, 2016, Rocket Lab announced that it had qualified its Rutherford engine for flight. Development spanned two years and more than 200 engine hot fire tests. One month later, the company announced that the Electron second stage had been qualified, with test firings on the company's test stand.  The first stage was qualified on December 13, 2016. 

electronc.jpg (16223 bytes)Electron Second Stage with Rutherford Vacuum Engine

Rocket Lab delivered its first Electron vehicle to Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 at Mahia on February 16, 2017.  A series of tests were planned before the rocket, named "It’s a Test", would be ready to fly.   It would be the first of three planned test flights before Rocket Lab begins flying payloads for paying customers.

On March  22, 2017, Rocket Lab announced that it had garnered $75 million in new financing, bringing its total to $148 million.  It also announced that it was opening an office in Huntington Beach, California that included production floor space.

electron1.jpg (16825 bytes)Electron Inaugural Falls Short of Orbit

Electron Inaugural Falls Short of Orbit Rocket Lab's Electron rocket fell short of orbit in its inaugural test launch from New Zealand on May 25, 2017. The new small launch vehicle, named "It's a Test", lifted off from Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand's North Island at 04:20 UTC. The 17 meter tall, 1.2 meter diameter rocket, its innovative carbon composite case propellant tanks filled with kerosene and liquid oxygen, was slated to steer toward a south, south-east azimuth, rising on about 15.65 metric tons of thrust from its nine equally-innovative, electric-motor-pump-fed Rutherford engines.

Electron carried test instrumentation, rather than a revenue payload, on this test flight. The launch was not broadcast live and post-launch information was limited. Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s CEO, reported that Electron had a good first stage burn, stage separation, second stage ignition, and fairing separation, but orbital velocity was not achieved. A 300 x 500 km x 83 deg orbit was planned.

The company did not give a cause for the failure. It did release several videos showing portions of the first stage flight. An on-board video showed a roll developing during ascent. Plans called for the first stage to burn for 2 minutes 30 seconds. Stage separation was to take place four seconds after first stage shutdown. The second stage's single vacuum-optimized Rutherford engine was then slated to fire for 4 minutes 48 seconds to reach orbital velocity.

The launch took place after several days of weather delays. Although orbit was not achieved, Mr. Beck expressed satisfaction with the results of the heavily instrumented test flight- the first of three such test flights currently planned.

Electron No. 2 (Rocket Lab)Electron Success (January 25, 2018 Update)

Rocket Lab's Electron succeeded on its second test launch from New Zealand on January 21, 2018. The new small launch vehicle, named "Still Testing", lifted off from Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand's North Island at 01:43 UTC. The 17 meter tall, 1.2 meter diameter, less than 13 tonne rocket, its carbon composite case propellant tanks filled with kerosene and liquid oxygen, aimed toward a south, south-east azimuth, rising on about 15.65 metric tons of thrust from its nine electric-motor-pump-fed Rutherford engines.

Electron carried three cubesats and test instrumentation on this test flight. The first stage engines ignited at T-2 seconds, with liftoff at T-0. The stage burned out at T+2 min 30 sec and separated four seconds later. The second stage's single vacuum-optimized Rutherford engine ignited at T+2 min 36 sec and fired until T+8 min 14 sec to reach orbital velocity. The two-part payload shroud separated about 3 min 5 sec after launch.

Two Lemur-2 cubesats and one Dovesat were carried aloft. Rocket Lab's webcast suggested that all three separated at T+8 min 31 sec and were aimed toward 300 x 500 km x 83 deg orbits. Three objects were subsequently tracked in an orbit generally consistent with that target. But three additional objects were also tracked in nearly-circular 500 km orbits.

On January 23, 2018, Rocket Lab announced that the second Electron had carried an unannouced monopropellant kick stage that fired at first apogee to insert the two Lemur-2 cubesats into roughly 490 x 530 km, near-circular orbits. The kick stage used a 12.2 kgf restartable engine named "Curie". The Dove satellite was jettisonned into the previously announced 300 x 500 km orbit shortly after the Electron second stage shut down. The kick stage did not perform its insertion burn until T+48-49 minutes, long after Rocket Lab's webcast of the launch ended suggesting that a successful flight had been concluded when it was, in fact, still underway. A photograph of the kick stage showed that it had on-board avionics and three-axis control jets.

On January 24, Rocket Lab announced that a fourth payload, also previously unannounced, had been orbited, apparently accounting for a third object tracked in the 300 x 500 km orbit. The Rocket Lab payload, named Humanity Star, was "a geodesic sphere made from carbon fibre with 65 highly reflective panels". The spinning payload should relect sunlight to create a flashing effect visible to ground observers.

The success followed a May 25, 2017 inaugural failure, when the "It's a Test" rocket developed a roll, followed by misconfigured telemetry equipment losing contact with the rocket about 4 minutes after launch, causing a range safety flight termination.

Five scrubbed or aborted launch attempts preceeded the launch. They took place on December 9, 11, 12, and 15 and on January 20.

It was the first flight to orbit by an all-composite tank liquid fueled rocket, the first orbital flight using electric-motor-pump-fed engines, and the first orbital success from New Zealand.

Vehicle Configurations

(metric tons)
[1] 180 x 300 km x 45 deg
[2] 500 km x 98.6 deg
Configuration LIftoff
(metric tons)
Electron 0.225 t [1]
0.150 t [2]
Stg 1 (9 x Rutherford) + Stg 2 (1 x Rutherford Vacuum) + PLF 17 m 12.55 t

* LEO:  Low Earth Orbit

Vehicle Components

  Stg 1 Stg 2
Stg 3
Kick Stage
Diameter (m) 1.2 m 1.2 m ~1.2 m 1.2 m
Length (m) 12.1 m 2.4 m ~0.5 m 2.5 m
Propellant Mass (tonnes) 9.25 t 2.05 t    
Empty Mass (tonnes) 0.95 t 0.25 t    
Total Mass (tonnes) 10.2 t 2.30 t   ~0.05 t
Engine 9 x Rutherford 1 x Rutherford Vacuum 1 x Curie  
Engine Mfgr Rocket Lab Rocket Lab Rocket Lab  
Fuel Kerosene Kerosene Monopropellant  
Oxidizer LOX LOX    
(SL tons)
15.65 t      
(Vac tons)
18.82 t avg 2.27 t 0.0122 t  
ISP (SL sec) - -    
ISP (Vac sec) 303 s 333 s    
Burn Time (sec)        
No. Engines 9 1 1  

Electron Launch Log


DATE     VEHICLE           ID      PAYLOAD                 MASS(t) SITE*     ORBIT*
05/25/17 Electron          01      It's a Test                     MA 1     [FTO][1]
01/21/18 Electron          02      Still Testing           0.013   MA 1      LEO [2]
[1] Inaugural launch.  Failed to orbit. 
[2] Dovesat to 290 x 530 km x 82.92 deg orbit, then unannounced monoprop kick stage 
     fired its 12.2 kgf "Curie" engine at T+48-49 min to insert two Lemur-2 cubesats 
     into roughly 490 x 530 km orbits. 

Site Code:

MA = Mahia Peninsula, North Island, New Zealand 

 Orbit Code:

EEO/M = Molynia (12-hr) Elliptical Earth Orbit
FTO = Failed to Orbit
FSO = Failed Suborbital
GTO = Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit
GTO+ = Supersynchronous or High Perigee Transfer Orbit
GTO- = Subsynchronous Transfer Orbit
GTOi = Inclined GTO
GEO = Geosynchronous Orbit
HCO = Heliocentric (solar) Orbit
HTO = High Earth Transfer Orbit
LEO = Low Earth Orbit
LEO/S = Sun Synchronous Low Earth Orbit
LEO/P = Polar Low Earth Orbit
MEO = Medium Earth Orbit
MTO = Medium Earth Transfer Orbit 
SUB = Suborbital


Rocket Lab Web Site, Electron Launch Vehicle Description, Viewed April, 2017

 Last Update:  January 25, 2018