Rocket Labs: The little Rocket company that could

Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by ThreatMatrix, Aug 13, 2019.

  1. ThreatMatrix

    ThreatMatrix In shambles
    Lifetime Member

    Aug 28, 2014
    +15,233 / -613
    Rocket labs is American/Kiwi joint headquartered in Cali but they have what might be the prettiest launch site eva’ in New Zealand. They are in the business of launching small payloads to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

    Before we talk about the cool things Rocket Labs does let’s talk a little about orbits. LOE (low Earth Orbit) is defined as being between 160-2000km. For reference the earth’s diameter is about 6,500km, Mt Everest is about 9km. The Karman line (not so agreed upon edge of space) is at 100km. Compare that with GEO (geosynchronous orbit) at 36,000km. Anything between 2000km and 36,000 km could be considered medium earth orbit – GPS satellites hang out at 20,000km.

    The height of your orbit dictates your orbital speed. Objects in LOE circle the earth in about 90 minutes, GPS satellites twice a day and objects in GEO, of course, once a day. If you speed up or slow down that will change your orbit altitude ( a discussion for another day).

    The advantages to LOE are:

    a) Your close to the surface which is perfect for taking pictures and communication

    b) You cover a lot of ground

    c) It doesn’t take a big rocket to get there

    d) You can actually orbit the earth

    As it turns out there is a sweet spot in LOE between about 200-500km. Even though 160km is the defined edge of space you still have some atmosphere to deal with so you want to get above that and not have to worry about re-boosting as much. And the Van-Allen radiation belts start at about 650km. Radiation reeks havoc with electronics and humans so avoiding it is advised.

    There are currently about 2000 satellites (and the ISS) in LOE. Rocket labs is focusing on launching small payloads <150kg. At it turns out there is quite a big market for launching very small satellites such as cubesats that are only 10cm and about 2kg. Academia likes to launch these for scientific research or just to try out technologies. Traditionally if you wanted to put a small satellite up you would have to ride-share. You would have to book a spot on someone else's much bigger rocket and hope that they’d drop you off after the primary mission. Two problems with that were that if anything went wrong, the mission would take care of the primary payload first and scrub your mission. Also it's hard to book a flight that meets your parameters.

    Rocket Labs purposely is launching small rockets to serve this market. In fact they are planning to get to a launch frequency of once a week or more (currently they launch about once a month). You can go over to Rocket Labs website, download their payload users guide and book a flight.

    So now lets’ talk about the cool things about Rocket labs. First their rockets are made out of carbon fiber. Carbon Fiber is insanely expensive (like 10x*) and as it turns out is difficult to manufacture for larger rockets. SpaceX found this out as they’ve given up on using carbon fiber for they’re rockets. So Rocket labs has these cool looking black carbon fiber rockets (Called Electron). Their engine also has some cool features. It’s manufactured using 3D printing technology. But what makes it really unique is that it uses electric motors to power the turbo pumps. As everyone knows the turbo pumps in a rocket engine compress the fuel so as to get more energy out of the burn. Since time began this has been done by pre-burning a portion of the fuel to drive the turbines.
    Here’s a picture of SpaceX’s RP1 fueled Merlin engine. You can clearly see the exhaust from the preburn.

    So they have cool looking rockets, a “revolutionary” engine and plan to get launch frequencies up to once a week. But wait there’s more! Pete Beck, the Kiwi Engineer turned CEO, had famously said that they were not going to chase re-usability. In order to land self-propulsively you need a bigger rocket and they weren’t in that market. Instead, last week, Beck announced that they are going to recover rockets in a unique fashion. The first stage rockets will float back to earth using parachutes. They will then snatch the rocket out of the air using a helicopter.

    Now they do have some technology to work out. Particularity how to keep the rocket from burning up on reentry however their preliminary measurements have told them that with some modifications it is doable.

    This isn’t a unique way of catching stuff from orbit but is the first time something as large as a rocket has been attempted. NASA, back in the day, had an idea to capture a Saturn V rocket using a helicopter the size of a football field with rocket propelled rotor tips. That idea went no where for some reason.

    So, there are a lot of private companies (besides SpaceX) doing a lot of cool things. The market is set to explode. The next decade should be very interesting.

    (* Citation needed)
    • bradgator2

      bradgator2 Internet Bully
      Lifetime Member

      Jun 12, 2014
      +10,758 / -76
      This is America.... we measure distance in miles dammit.
      • Gatordiddy

        Gatordiddy Well-Known Member
        Lifetime Member

        Jul 23, 2014
        +6,973 / -47
        How does one avoid this? Is it only in certain areas?
        Asking for a conspiracy friend.
      • AugustaGator

        AugustaGator Junior Member
        Lifetime Member

        Jun 12, 2014
        +7,508 / -244
        I still see Kim Jong Un.

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