Rocket Lab adds a suborbital launch option aimed at hypersonic defense customers

Rocket Lab is adding a new offering to its suite of services: hypersonic suborbital launches. The new service will be available starting sometime in the first half of this year, when the company will fly its first mission for a “confidential customer” who contracted use of the new suborbital rocket.

Rocket Lab’s suborbital vehicle is derived from its successful Electron orbital launch vehicle, but gets a new name by way of the backronym “HASTE” (hypersonic accelerator suborbital test electron). The first of these is already being prepared for launch at Rocket Lab’s U.S. launch facility in Wallops Island, Virginia.

Hypersonic test and development capabilities are a big unlock for a key Rocket Lab customer segment: government and defense. Already, Rocket Lab has been tapped by Dynetics to offer hypersonic test launch services through a U.S. Department of Defense contract, and it’s also been picked by the Defense Innovation Unit to develop similar capabilities. A third contract from the Missle Defense Agency Target and Countermeasures will also see a number of different payloads tested aboard HASTE. Mostly, Rocket Lab says HASTE missions will fall under the purview of its decided National Security subsidiary.

This is big news for Rocket Lab, but it also has a lot of potential impact across the industry. Stratolaunch, for instance, is a dedicated company focused on this opportunity, and Blue Origin also aims to provide suborbital test operation opportunities.