It wasn’t long ago that orbital launches were something that took years of planning and months of tests and careful preparation. But Rocket Lab’s new program will enable customers to show up at the launch site with their payload in the boot and have it in orbit 24 hours later. Premium next-day rates will apply, of course.
The Responsive Space Program is actually a bit more formal than that, but the very idea of going from zero to launch in a day or less is pretty impressive.
“Responsive launch capability was baked into the design of Electron and our launch sites since day one, and we’ve made strategic investments into vertical spacecraft manufacturing to enable this,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck. And as the release states: “From arrival at the launch site, payload integration, encapsulation and launch can be completed in as little as 24 hours.”
Your company will, of course, have to be part of the program, and collaborate ahead of time with Rocket Lab on the exact specifications, orbit and other variables necessary to any successful launch. So although you can’t just show up at the launch complex with a few million bucks and a satellite, you can give them all the relevant details and say you might show up like that some time in the next six months.
Although the company has made some very quick turnarounds in the past and launched on fairly short notice for customers like the National Reconnaissance Office, it has not yet accomplished this ultra-fast turnaround, but the company is confident that it’s possible. Indeed, as Beck points out, this has been one of the capabilities it has chiefly aspired to from the start. And a company representative told me that customers have asked for this kind of ultra-short-turnaround option numerous times.
Naturally, it’s also unlikely that the payload will arrive on the back of a pickup — Rocket Lab emphasizes its ability to build, maintain and otherwise operate or prepare satellites and support systems at its own facilities. It’s more likely that if you’re part of this new program, your satellite would be waiting in a clean room somewhere in New Zealand (or starting in December, Virginia) while you iron out the last of its code or wrestle with red tape.
Then when you get the all-clear, you’d call up Peter and he’ll put your bird into orbit before the sun goes down tomorrow. They might even catch the first stage on the way down.