Rocket Lab picks Virginia’s Wallops Island for U.S. launch site, adding to N.Z. pad

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck and other dignitaries pose with their shovels for a groundbreaking ceremony on Virginia’s Wallops Island. (Rocket Lab Photo via Twitter)

Rocket Lab officially unveiled its plan to build a commercial launch site at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Virginia’s Wallops Island, with liftoffs due to begin in a year.

The facility, which will be called Launch Complex 2, provides a U.S.-based alternative to Rocket Lab’s first launch pad on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula.

So far, Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle has flown just two test missions, including a successful rise to orbit in January. The third liftoff, nicknamed “It’s Business Time” in homage to the New Zealand comedy duo known as Flight of the Conchords, is set to launch from New Zealand next month and put five small satellites in orbit.

Another New Zealand launch is due to launch an assortment of NASA-sponsored satellites as early as December. Seattle-based Spaceflight is partnering with Rocket Lab on three Electron launches over the coming year. The Electron is designed to send payloads weighing as much as 500 pounds to low Earth orbit.

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said today that his company expects to spend $20 million to build Launch Complex 2.

“We’ve worked closely with the experienced and welcoming teams from Virginia Space and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops to design a pad and processes that will enable an agile and streamlined approach to small-satellite launch on U.S. soil,” Beck said in a news release.

Wallops is already home to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Launch Pad 0, which is adjacent to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility and used by Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket to send Cygnus cargo ships to the International Space Station. The next Antares launch from Pad 0-A is scheduled for Nov. 15.

In addition to the new launch pad, Rocket Lab will develop a launch vehicle integration and assembly facility at Wallops Research Park to support the integration of up to five Electron rockets simultaneously. The facility will also include a launch control room and dedicated customer facilities.

As many as 12 Electron launches could take place annually once the Wallops complex is finished, Beck said, and the New Zealand site could accommodate as many as 120 launches annually.

Rocket Lab says it’s continuing to assess additional launch sites to provide further launch flexibility for small-satellite customers. The company maintains agreements with Cape Canaveral in Florida and Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska to conduct launches from existing pads as required.

The company raised $75 million in financing last year, boosting its valuation to more than $1 billion. One of its investors is Lockheed Martin, which recently won the nod to build Britain’s first launch complex on Scotland’s north coast. There’s a chance Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle could be used at that facility.

Rocket Lab has its U.S. headquarters and production facility in Huntington Beach, Calif. Last week, Rocket Lab unveiled a second rocket factory in Auckland, New Zealand, with “Star Trek” star William Shatner in attendance.

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