On 12 July 2016, satellite manufacturer and operator Planet (formerly Planet Labs) announced that it had purchased three dedicated launches from fellow US company Rocket Labs.
Rocket Labs is developing its two-stage Electron rocket designed to orbit small satellite payloads ranging from 150 – 500 kg. Initial flight tests are expected during 2016, with the first commercial launches expected in 2017.
The launch order marks the first time Planet has purchased a dedicated launch for their FLOCK cubesats (known as Doves), usually occupying secondary payload slots on-board larger vehicles. Planet intend to utilise the entire capacity of each of their launches, which equates to 20 – 25 FLOCK cubesats each.
Further details about the agreement, such as prices, were not released by the companies however, it is known that the Electron rocket is aimed at a launch price of US$5m.
Although Rocket Labs is a US company, its launch site is located in New Zealand. Rocket Labs is building this facility from scratch and recently moved to its current location on the Mahia Peninsula on North Island after encountering difficulties in obtaining the necessary permits at its first location on the Kaitorete Spit, South Island.
Matthew Wilson contributed to this story.