Rocket Lab has been granted a launch operator license by the Federal Aviation Administration, paving the way for its first mission from U.S. soil at Wallops Island, Virginia.
Up to now, the private spaceflight company has been launching from a site in New Zealand, but the permission granted by the FAA will enable Rocket Lab to increase its frequency of launches and serve more customers, including U.S. government agencies that would rather launch from American soil.
News of the FAA’s green light comes just a couple of days after Rocket Lab’s first launch since a mission failure in July when a mid-air complication resulted in the loss of an Electron rocket and its payload of seven satellites.
In a tweet, Rocket Lab described the FAA’s license as “a major step toward the first Electron launches from U.S. soil.”
— Rocket Lab (@RocketLab) September 1, 2020
The FAA’s decision to grant Rocket Lab a Launch Operator License means the company can carry out multiple launches from its recently built Launch Complex-2 (LC-2) site for the next five years without having to apply for a new launch-specific license for each mission.
Rocket Lab said that the simplified form of licensing “enables streamlined access to space for U.S. government smallsats,” adding that across its three launch pads — two in New Zealand and one in the U.S. — it will now be able to carry out up to 130 launches annually.
Among the first Electron launches from LC-2 will be a moon mission for NASA as part of the U.S. space agency’s Artemis program, though the company is yet to offer any dates for when the first rockets will lift off from
Rocket Lab started life in 2006 with the aim of making it in the rideshare market for smallsat launches. SpaceX recently launched such a service with its Falcon 9 rocket, while Virgin Orbit is also working toward a similar goal.
Like SpaceX, Rocket Lab is working on the development of a reusable rocket system to help it reduce operating costs. But whereas SpaceX’s system brings the first-stage booster down in a controlled landing shortly after launch, Rocket Lab is planning to use a helicopter with a grappling hook to pluck a falling booster out of the sky as it floats back to Earth with a parachute soon after launch. The company recently demonstrated the maneuver in a test run using a dummy rocket.
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