The 'next SpaceX,' Rocket Lab, is finally ready for launch

Rocket Lab hopes to start sending smaller deliveries to space from both sides of the globe on a regular basis starting this weekend.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Expertise Solar, solar storage, space, science, climate change, deregulated energy, DIY solar panels, DIY off-grid life projects, and CNET's "Living off the Grid" series Credentials
  • Finalist for the Nesta Tipping Point prize and a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Eric Mack

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket.

Rocket Lab

As SpaceX sets its sights on the moon, Mars and bigger rockets, another California-based space startup is eagerly walking through the door to commercial space success blasted open by Elon Musk.

Rocket Lab builds launch systems designed to send smaller payloads to space than the big satellites, space planes and cargo shipments bound for the ISS that SpaceX and competitors like Northrop Grumman specialize in. 

After a few years of test launches and delays, the company is ready to send its first fully commercial mission, dubbed "It's Business Time" to space. Originally slated for April and postponed a few times since, Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck says his Electron rocket is "go for launch" Saturday evening, Pacific time.

Watch this: Rocket Lab makes first rocket launch from private pad, and New Zealand

The rocket, which boasts some 3D-printed components, lightweight composite materials and novel electric fuel pumps to drive down costs, will blast off from the company's private launch facility in New Zealand as early as 8 p.m. PT.  It will be carrying three commercial satellites, including two cubesats designed to track weather and ship traffic for Spire Global and another larger satellite for GeoOptics' remote sensing network.

While the Electron rocket's payloads tend to be smaller than that of a Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy, Rocket Lab does have big plans. It's currently building a second launch facility at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.