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SMi SmallSatellites 2020  Satellite Communications Technology

Rocket Lab opens Launch Complex 2, confirms U.S. Air Force payload as first Electron mission from U.S. soil

(18 December 2019 - Rocket Lab) Rocket Lab has officially opened Launch Complex 2, the company’s first U.S. launch site, and confirmed the inaugural mission from the site will be a dedicated flight for the U.S. Air Force.

Located at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia, Rocket Lab Launch Complex 2 represents a new national launch capability for the United States. Construction on the site began in February 2019, with the site completed and ready to support missions just 10 months later. Designed to support rapid call-up missions, Launch Complex 2 delivers responsive launch capability from home soil for U.S. government small satellites. The ability to deploy satellites to precise orbits in a matter of hours, not months or years, is increasingly important to ensure resilience in space.

At a press conference held at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, the U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program has been announced as the first customer scheduled to launch on an Electron vehicle from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 2. The dedicated mission will see a single research and development micro-sat launched from the site in Q2 2020.

Rocket Lab’s Founder and Chief Executive, Peter Beck, says the completion of Launch Complex 2 represents a new era in frequent, reliable and responsive space access from the United States.

“It’s an honor and privilege to be launching a U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program payload as the inaugural mission from Launch Complex 2. We’ve already successfully delivered STP payloads on Electron from Launch Complex 1, and we’re proud to be providing that same rapid, responsive, and tailored access to orbit from U.S. soil,” says Mr. Beck. “With the choice of two Rocket Lab launch sites offering more than 130 launch opportunities each year, our customers enjoy unmatched control over their launch schedule and orbital requirements. Rocket Lab has made frequent, reliable and responsive access to space the new normal for small satellites.”

“Rocket Lab’s launch site at the Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia, strengthens the United States’ ability to provide responsive and reliable access to space. We look forward to Rocket Lab successfully launching the STP-27RM mission from Launch Complex 2 next spring, which will test new capabilities that we will need in the future,” said Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise.

Virginia Space CEO & Executive Director Dale Nash said, “The opening of Launch Complex 2 is a significant milestone and a remarkable achievement made possible by the strong partnership with Rocket Lab and NASA. Almost immediately after Rocket Lab’s selection of MARS as its U.S. launch site; engineers, managers and technicians worked tirelessly together across multiple time zones and two continents to make LC-2 a reality. Also, the strong support from the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Air Force, as well as the skilled contractor team have contributed greatly to this success. We look forward to a busy manifest of Electron launches coming off LC-2.”

Rocket Lab’s Vice President of Launch, Shaun D’Mello, said the rapid pace of construction was made possible by the tireless support of teams from Virginia Space, which owns and operates MARS, and NASA Wallops Flight Facility. “The fact that we have an operational launch site less than a year after construction began is testament to the hard work and dedication of the Virginia Space and NASA teams, as well as the unwavering support of our local suppliers. Thank you for being a huge part of enabling us to open access to space. We’re excited to embark on the next phase of working together – regular and reliable Electron launches from the United States,” says Mr. D’Mello.

About Launch Complex 2

Located at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia, Launch Complex 2 is Rocket Lab’s second launch site for the Electron launch vehicle. It joins Rocket Lab’s first site, Launch Complex 1, located on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula. Between the two sites, Rocket Lab can launch more than 130 times each year, offering small satellite customers unrivalled choice of orbital inclinations and control over their launch schedule.

Following a site selection process in late 2018 involving multiple U.S. spaceports, Rocket Lab selected the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport as the location of Launch Complex 2 due to the wide orbital inclinations the site can support, as well as the rapid planned construction timeframe. Construction on Launch Complex 2 commenced in February 2019, with the site operational just 10 months later in December 2020. More than 150 local construction workers and contractors were involved in the development of Launch Complex 2, with many Virginia-based companies supplying services, hardware and materials for the site. Locally built infrastructure at Launch Complex 2 includes the 66-ton launch platform and 7.6-ton strongback for the Electron launch vehicle, supplied by Virginia-based company Steel America.

Launch Complex 2 is tailored specifically for U.S. government missions to provide responsive launch for small satellites from U.S soil. Launch Complex 2 can support up to 12 missions per year, supplementing the 120 launches possible from Launch Complex 1 every year.

In addition to the pad itself, Launch Complex 2 will also be home to an Integration and Control Facility located within the Wallops Research Park for processing payloads and Electron launch vehicles prior to lift-off. The ICF will house multiple Electron launch vehicles for pre-launch integration and will be home to Launch Complex 2 Range Control operations, payload integrations cleanrooms, and administrative offices. With the launch site now operational, Launch Complex 2 is expected to employ up to 30 people in engineering, launch safety, and administrative positions in the coming year.