Rocket Lab achieves liftoff — Expert Reaction

Rocket Lab launched its Electron rocket yesterday from the Māhia Peninsula.

#ItsaTest ©Rocket Lab

Despite not reaching orbit, the company announced it successfully made it to space, marking the first orbital-class rocket launched from a private launch site.

The SMC gathered expert reaction about the launch. Feel free to use these comments in your reporting.

Professor Richard Easther, Professor of Physics (and Head of Department) at the University of Auckland, comments:

“Yesterday’s launch was a remarkable milestone for Rocket Lab. Achieving orbit on the first try would be a fairytale result with any completely new launch vehicle and Rocket Lab came tantalizingly close to pulling this off. This will stand as a major accomplishment.

“For my part, I am truly excited about the impact of this on our wider STEM community. “Space” has an almost unique ability to inspire interest in science and if Rocket Lab develops a viable launch industry in New Zealand its impact will be extend far beyond the purely commercial benefits.”

Kris Walsh, Former project manager at United Launch Alliance and former director of all NASA launch programmes for Boeing, comments:

“Congratulations, Rocket Lab.  From the data that they are sharing, they made it to space and have the data to assess all aspects of the flight.

“Although it is disappointing that the launch didn’t achieve orbit, the next actions of Rocket Lab are very important to watch, especially for Rocket Lab’s current and future customers.

“Although Rocket Lab’s control of data is frustrating to the news media, to me it demonstrates that there is a process in place to assess the data carefully before jumping to conclusions internally and in communication outside of the company.

“Rocket Lab must evaluate all anomalies in the 25,000 channels of data, develop a plan to the next launch, then execute that plan.  Communication should be a part of that plan.

“Lastly, I commend Peter Beck for his tweet of confidence in his team on a day that must have been disappointing both to them and him.”

Dr George Sowers, Independent consultant, former Chief Scientist and Vice-President of United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, comments:

“My hearty congratulations to the team.  I know first hand how incredibly hard it is to get something to space.  A million things have to go right.

“As a matter of statistics, the general record of the launch industry for first flights of a new rocket is around 50%.  Success was certainly not guaranteed.

“There are three sorts of challenges or risks in the space business.
1. Technology risk.  Rocket Lab seems well on their way to getting this under control.
2.  Performance risk.  Can they manufacture and launch repeatedly and reliability, on schedule?  This challenge is still in front of them.
3.  Market risk.  Are there enough customers willing to pay Rocket Lab’s prices for them to achieve business success?
This is the toughest part and involves factors out of their control.  But I wish them the best.”

Professor Martin Barstow, University of Leicester, Director of the Leicester Institute of Space & Earth Observation, comments:

“Despite not achieving full success, it is clear that this launch was a major step forward for Rocket Lab. For the launch to have gone as well as it did is a major achievement and it’s a pity that they didn’t make orbit.

“However, it seems there were no catastrophic failures and I suspect it was a performance issue with the second stage. I am sure that is something they will fix after doing some further analysis.”

Earlier in the week, the SMC put together this expert Q&A with international experts.