Company launches '3D printed' rocket from New Zealand

The Electron rocket reached space, but 'didn’t quite reach orbit'

Company launches '3D printed' rocket from New Zealand

Image: Rocket Lab

A rocket which used "3D printing for all primary components" has reached space after a test launch.

Rocket Lab says its Electron rocket reached space, but did not reach orbit.

The test took place on Thursday afternoon (local time) from the company's private launch site on New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula.

Peter Beck, CEO and founder of Rocket Lab, explained: “It was a great flight. We had a great first stage burn, stage separation, second stage ignition and fairing separation. We didn’t quite reach orbit and we’ll be investigating why.

"However, reaching space in our first test puts us in an incredibly strong position to accelerate the commercial phase of our programme, deliver our customers to orbit and make space open for business."

The company is hoping to launch 50 rockets a year once its commercial operations get underway, with two further test launches planned for 2017.

New Zealand's Economic Development Minister Simon Bridges welcomed the successful launch - the first from a private facility - saying the country is now one of 11 currently able to launch satellites.

He said: “It is the first visible sign of a space industry in New Zealand and is an achievement Rocket Lab, and all New Zealanders can be proud of.”

3D-printed rocket components are seen as a key method of driving down the often prohibitive cost of space transport.

SpaceX - which has successfully launched and landed 'reusable' rockets - has designed 3D printed parts for its rockets.

There is also a 3D printer on board the International Space Station to begin testing such a machine's capacity to build parts or tools on long-term missions.