Rocket Lab launched a mission from U.S. soil for the first time ever

The private space firm's latest mission, 'Virginia is for Launch Lovers', is the first of many it means to launch from U.S. soil.
Chris Young
The Electron rocket at launch.
The Electron rocket at launch.

Rocket Lab / Twitter 

Rocket Lab, the company plucking reusable rocket boosters out of the sky with a helicopter, just performed its first launch from U.S. soil.

A Rocket Lab Electron booster launched from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility at 6 pm EST (2300 GMT) on Tuesday, January 24.

The first U.S. liftoff for the New Zealand and California-based firm paves the way for monthly launches from the U.S. East Coast.

Rocket Lab aces first-ever U.S. launch

Rocket Lab's latest mission, called 'Virginia is for Launch Lovers', launched three commercial radio frequency satellites for customer HawkEye 360. Roughly an hour after the launch, the three satellites were deployed at an altitude of roughly 340 miles (550 kilometers).

During the twilight launch, Murielle Baker, Rocket Lab's communications manager who was narrating the launch, said, "liftoff of Electron from Launch Complex 2, leaving U.S. soil for the first time and on its way to space, up and over the Atlantic Ocean!"

Until the launch of 'Virginia is for Launch Lovers', Rocket Lab has only launched missions from its two rocket pads on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand's North Island. 

In a statement prior to launch, Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said, "we're incredibly excited about the capability we're bringing to Virginia by delivering responsive launch for our customers from U.S. soil, and we're also proud of the opportunities it creates for the local community by creating highly skilled jobs and bringing high-tech manufacturing to the Eastern Shore."

Rocket Lab had hoped to start launching from the U.S. in 2020. Still, delays in developing a NASA autonomous flight termination system required for Electron launches from Wallops heavily delayed the first launch.

Rocket Lab has a busy year ahead

Rocket Lab is also developing a larger reusable launch vehicle called Neutron, which will feature an innovative Hungry Hungry Hippo-inspired rocket fairing, and may fly in 2024.

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In May last year, the firm also retrieved a rocket booster from the sky for the first time using a helicopter. The helicopter did have to release the booster into the ocean shortly after retrieval, though Rocket Lab eventually aims to use helicopter retrieval as its method for rocket reusability.

If all goes to plan, Rocket Lab also has an incredibly ambitious mission set for this year. The company is self-funding a mission that will send a probe to Venus this year in search of alien life in the planet's clouds. Now that it has its first U.S. launch out of the way, Rocket Lab now plans to launch one Electron mission a month from the Wallops facility.