Space startup Rocket Lab successfully sent a rocket to orbit

On Sunday afternoon, New Zealand and U.S. spaceflight startup Rocket Lab successfully sent a second Electron rocket to space — and this time it reached orbit.

The rocket “Still Testing” launched from the company’s New Zealand North Island site on the Māhia peninsula at 2:43 p.m. NZDT (1:30 a.m. GMT/8:30 p.m. ET on Saturday).

“Still Testing” reached orbit and deployed customer payloads after eight and a half minutes from take-off. 

On-board were three small commercial satellites: Dove Pioneer, an earth imaging satellite from Planet Labs, and two for weather and ship tracking company Spire.

It’s a big step for the company which needs to prove it can fulfill its goal of sending small payloads to space at low cost. 

The second test flight was delayed from its planned launch in December due to a power fault, while the company’s first test flight failed to reach orbit.

“Reaching orbit on a second test flight is significant on its own, but successfully deploying customer payloads so early in a new rocket program is almost unprecedented,” Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck said in a statement.

“Rocket Lab was founded on the [principle] of opening access to space to better understand our planet and improve life on it. Today we took a significant step towards that.”

Rocket Lab has five Electron vehicles in development, and said it expects to launch more than 50 times a year. 

The company’s engineers will use the data from Sunday’s launch to help plan future launches, where they already have signed up customers like NASA, Spire, Planet, Moon Express and Spaceflight.