By Joey Roulette
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Rocket Lab launched its first mission from American soil on Tuesday, kicking off an expansion of the company’s launch business that adds to a surge in private rocket activity at U.S. space ports.
The Long Beach, California-based company’s workhorse Electron rocket, an expendable launcher standing 40 feet (12 meters) tall, lifted off at 6 p.m. EST from its new launch pad at the NASA-operated Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.
The mission marked Rocket Lab’s first outside its flagship launchsite on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, where the company has carried out all 32 previous Electron missions since the rocket’s debut in 2017.
Rocket Lab secured an agreement to use the Launch Complex 2 site in Virginia in 2018.
Tuesday’s mission had been delayed several times, initially by nearly a year over a lengthy certification review of Electron’s automated flight termination system, then a few more weeks due to bad weather in Virginia.
The mission was otherwise routine for Rocket Lab, sending three satellites toward orbit for radio-frequency analytics firm Hawkeye 360.
The company confirmed at 7:34 p.m. that the Hawkeye satellites were successfully deployed in orbit.
Rocket Lab’s inaugural Virginia-based mission comes as U.S. regulators adapt to a surge in private rocket launches, driven primarily by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The uptick is expected to grow as a handful of U.S. launch startups plan to loft their rockets into space for the first time in 2023.
(Reporting by Joey RouletteEditing by Chris Reese and Sandra Maler)