This weekend, a small missile company will try to launch its first commercial mission.
It will not be nearly a big spectacle as the first spacecraft flying of the powerful Falcon Heavy missile in February, driving the sports car Elona Muska on a trip outside of Mars. But Rocket Lab's Electron is a sign of a new missile launcher – a small, inexpensive one that can often be launched – which could be more important in the future as companies are sending holes to smaller satellites in the orbit.
When is the launch and how can I watch it?
Rocket Lab will move to the Internet at a launch site in New Zealand.
The launch window lasts for nine days, four hours each day. The first opportunity will be on Sunday at 4:50 am. Time in New Zealand, (In the United States, it will still be Saturday, and it will be a late-night show, or 10:50 in Eastern Time).
What is missile carrying?
There are seven loads, all small satellites. This includes two satellite tracking satellites for Spire Global; a small satellite for monitoring climate and environment for GeoOptics; a small probe built by high school students in Irvine, California; and the demonstration version of the sailboat that pulls extinct satellites out of the orbit.
Why is the Electron Rocket so small?
Just like the technology on Earth, the satellites are smaller and can now be launched on smaller missiles. Businesses and governments now also have the advantage of designing small satellite constellations to perform tasks that were once handled by a huge, expensive satellite. With this approach, the failure of one satellite can be solved by moving the remaining satellites. It is also faster and cheaper to send a replacement.
Which other companies are building small missiles to launch smaller satellites?
There are at least 150 companies that work on small missiles, though most likely they will never land from the ground.
Some of the most promising are the Virgin Orbits, initiated by billionaire Richard Branson; and Vector Launch and Firefly Aerospace, launched by former SpaceX students.
Two other promising companies are the Relativity Space, which looks like the 3-D prints most of its missiles, and Gilmour Space, headquartered in Australia.