Video | Business Headlines | Internet | Science | Scientific Ethics | Technology | Search

 

Rocket Lab lifts off - Expert Reaction

Rocket Lab lifts off - Expert Reaction
26 May 2017


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

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.

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."

Contact: gfsowers@comcast.net, +1 303 916 4793,

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."


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.

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

Where does this launch sit in the scheme of what else is currently happening in the industry?

"I see this as part of the new spirit of commercial enterprise developing around low cost access to space, of which Space-X is a prime example. In the current context Rocket Lab are not so well advanced, as they have yet to carry out their first launch. Also, their 225kg payload mass is rather smaller than other capabilities.

However, I think there will be a growing need for launch capability for lower mass satellites like this to build satellite constellations. So, if successful, they will be well-placed to support and exploit that market."

What is Rocket Lab's competitive edge and is their business model viable?

"It's not clear to me how their business model functions (since I can't find their pricing structure), but as mentioned above, they will be hitting an emerging market."

What is new or different about the Electron rocket technology they have developed?

"I think the use of 3-D printing techniques to produce key components is very novel and likely to lower production costs, giving them a pricing edge. It could also help with reliability."

Are there any advantages for launching from New Zealand?

"There are no particular advantages in launching from NZ, compared to existing sites. In fact the best launch sites are closer to the equator to get the maximum advantage from the Earth’s rotation.

"So, this is more about developing independent capability, so that the country does not have to rely on launch services from elsewhere. There is a similar issue in the UK where our government is keen to develop launch site opportunities. It's actually more difficult here due to the proximity of Europe. From New Zealand, you can launch safely over the Pacific."

How are private ventures like Rocket Lab and SpaceX etc changing access to space?

"This is really about lower costs and creating true commercial (and profitable) markets for space services to drive future space activities."

Is only launching small payloads viable?

"No, but the current rocket is only capable of launching small/medium payloads at the moment. However, once a successful track record is developed, it is possible to scale-up the systems, as Space-X did."

Other comments:

"I wish them luck! It’s a very exciting project, but getting into space is hard and success is not guaranteed."

________________________________________

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

Where does this launch sit in the scheme of what else is currently happening in the industry?

"The Rocket Lab launch is another indication of the vibrancy of the commercial space sector at the present time. It is another entrant into the small payload launch market which has been tough for commercial companies to succeed in. It certainly represents a first for New Zealand."

What is Rocket Lab's competitive edge and is their business model viable?

"Rocket Lab has some interesting technology such as the electric pump driven engine. And they have embraced the state of the art manufacturing technologies. However the small payload launch market is extremely difficult for commercial companies to make a profit.

"There are several reasons for this. First, the small payload market is not robust. There are many potential customers, but few are able to afford the price of a dedicated launch. On the bright side, there is some indication that the market might be picking up, for example with companies like Planet.

"Second there is fierce competition from nations (India, China, Russia, etc) and larger launchers offering small payload launches as rideshare. Plus, there are a number of other companies vying for the same market. If Rocket Lab succeeds, they will be the first commercial company to do so in the small market. Many have failed, including SpaceX, who discontinued the Falcon 1 small launcher after only a handful of launches."

What is new or different about the Electron rocket technology they have developed?

"The electric pump power engine is unique. However, it is not clear it has advantages over traditional turbo-pump designs in terms of either cost, reliability or performance."

Are there any advantages for launching from New Zealand?

"Range availability might be an advantage (less congestion). However, the southern latitude limits customers to high inclination orbits, precluding a portion of the market. It is also a long journey for American or European customers, representing most of the market."

How are private ventures like Rocket Lab and SpaceX etc changing the access to space?

"Still to be determined for Rocket Labs. SpaceX has disrupted the traditional launch markets, forcing other competitors to transform their business models, at least for the short term. SpaceX has had a number of technological successes, but it remains to be seen if their business model will succeed in the long term."

Is only launching small payloads viable?

"If the market improves, perhaps. I believe it unlikely due to factors explained above."

Other comments:
I wish them luck.


________________________________________

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

Where does this launch sit in the scheme of what else is currently happening in the industry?

"I was the Program Manager of the launch that had the first successful CubeSat launches, and Delta and Atlas continue to launch CubeSats for NASA successfully. The biggest frustration for these small satellites is access to space -- they have to wait until the primary payload launches - and delays are common for the larger satellites."

What is Rocket Lab's competitive edge and is their business model viable?

"What Rocket Lab offers is access to space for the smaller payloads. So, if Rocket Lab can quickly get reliable, on time launches, they can capture a market ignored by the current industry.

"It will have to also shift customers expectations -- payload processing should be mostly complete before the satellites arrive, reducing or eliminating the need for customer access to the launch site, customer viewing would be virtual, etc.

"I also think the $7M price tag for 3 CubeSats is a higher price than many of the scientific payloads of this size can support. So, it would be commercial ventures.

"Any comparison to SpaceX is not realistic. SpaceX's long term plan was to continue to increase the size of their rockets, and to capture the larger US government payloads. SpaceX did not significantly change access to space for commercial ventures."

Is only launching small payloads viable?

"Rocket Lab could if 1) they stick to their business model and target small (nano) payloads, especially constellations, 2) they are technically successful both in launch reliability and on-time launches, and 3) they focus on a ship and shoot launch process, minimizing Rocket Lab's expenses as well as its customers."


ends

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Business Headlines | Sci-Tech Headlines

 

Reserve Bank: Official Cash Rate Unchanged At 1.75 Percent

Global economic growth has increased and become more broad-based. However, major challenges remain with on-going surplus capacity and extensive political uncertainty... More>>

Kaikōura Earthquake: Private Insurers Receive $1.8b Claims

Insurance Council Chief Executive Tim Grafton said most is for commercial loss at $1.36 billion, with residential claims amounting to over $460 million. “...We have a high level of confidence that most people will have received settlement offers by the end of this year." More>>

ALSO:

Forms And Data: New Proposals To Simplify Personal Income Tax

The Government is proposing to make tax simpler for individuals, with people whose only income is from a salary, wages or investments no longer being required to file tax returns to receive tax refunds or to calculate any additional tax. More>>