Rockets are big, shiny hunks of metal that do extraordinary things -- but you'd probably never call one "cute". Kittens are cute. Quokkas? Definitely. But rockets, not so much -- except for this little guy, from New Zealand-based startup Rocket Lab. Its name is Electron, and after years of preparation, its's finally gearing up to launch as soon as next week.
Image: Rocket Lab
The two-stage launcher vehicle's debut is adorably (and appropriately) named "It's a test". Because of course it is.
"It's a test of not just the launch vehicle, but all this brand-new infrastructure," Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck told Space.com. "There's apt to be some teething problems."
Electron is a baby rocket compared to giants like SpaceX's Falcon 9 or Blue Origin's New Shepherd, as its maximum payload capacity is just 225kg -- the Falcon 9's, by comparison, is 22,800kg. But Electron is unique from these big boys in that it is specially designed to deliver tiny satellites called CubeSats into space. Its price tag is also pretty nice for those looking to launch a light payload -- Rocket Lab is aiming for a price point of $US5.5 million ($7.4 million) per launch, compared with the $US60 million ($80.9 million) it typically costs to send a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket int orbit.
When Electron blasts off from New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula in its maiden orbital test flight, it won't be carrying a payload. Instead, according to Space.com, the rocket will put its second stage booster into an elliptical orbit ranging in altitude from 300 to 500km, to test thousands of channels of instruments. Not too shabby for a first-timer.
We wish this cute rocket all the best on its big day. A 10-day launch window for the Electron opens next Monday at 7:00AM AEST. Oh, and here's a completely gratuitous photo of the rocket with googly eyes, in case you needed that:
Excellent Photoshop Work By Andrew Liszewski