Irony surrounded the news that the countdown for Rocket Lab’s latest launch mission from its Mahia Launch Complex 1, branded ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, was shut down by the Covid-19 lockdown.
It was all go for the launch of the latest Electron rocket on March 30 when the Level 4 state of emergency caused Rocket Lab to postpone the launch and cease production of Electron rockets at its factory.
The postponed launch includedthree payloads of five small satellites for the US National Reconnaissance Office (one of the ‘big five’ US intelligence agencies), as well as student-built cubesats from Boston University and the University of New South Wales.
Rocket Lab has continued to work with its customers and local authorities to minimise the impact and potential disruption of future missions planned for the months ahead.
With a number of rockets already completed, the space firm is well-prepared to resume its schedule as soon as the conditions align. Its production factory re-opened on Tuesday, but no date was available for the next launch..
Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck says most businesses try to plan for a crisis in one way or another, but few will have developed plans to survive global shutdowns as part of a pandemic. “The businesses that adapt quickly and find ways to operate in a different world are the ones that will thrive.”
Fortunately, he says this is what Kiwis do well. “No doubt we’ll see new innovative businesses and ideas come from the crisis although that will only take a business so far.”
Beck says people are the soul of any organization. “Taking care of your workforce as much as possible through tough times ensures you retain great talent for the better days ahead.”
The majority of its 400-strong New Zealand team continued to work remotely, but Beck says the delays have had a financial impact through the delayed launch and closure of production, with a flow on effect to more than a thousand New Zealand suppliers.
“From our position as the global leader in small satellite launch, we have been able to retain jobs at Rocket Lab including full-time staff living and working in Mahia while launch operations remain on hold.”
Beck says there’s a heartening culture of resilience among Rocket Lab team members who have continued to get stuck in. “Some of our technicians set up their own rigs in their garage to continue their production work at home, and we’ve had those who can’t do their regular work volunteer to help in other areas of the business.”
Rocket Lab teams have also used the time in lockdown to prepare for future missions, like Capstone which will launch a satellite to the Moon for NASA early next year.
Although that will lift off from Launch Complex 2 in Virginia, local teams working from home have been able to work on trajectory analysis. “This work will determine how we’ll get to the Moon, while other teams are working on refining the design of our Photon satellite bus which will carry NASA’s satellite to Lunar orbit.”
In the meantime, Rocket Lab donated some of its PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) including 500 protective gloves and reusable face masks to Mahia iwi Rongomaiwahine volunteers distributing care packages to locals.
Once the twelfth satellite is back on schedule and the routine resumes, Rocket Lab plans a launch every 4-6 weeks. “We’re ready to respond quickly to requests for launches. We’re in the fortunate position of having several launch vehicles in reserve and our own private launch pads in Mahia and the United States to continue working through a packed manifest this year,” says Beck.