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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
Contributing editor Eric Mack covers space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
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.