New Zealand just joined a very exclusive club, shared by only 10 others. According to the Deccan Chronicle, private company Rocket Lab's 56-foot test craft, Electron, blasted off from its facility on the Mahia Peninsula, located on the east coast of the North Island, adding New Zealand to the small list of countries capable of launching rockets into space. CNET reports that due to less-than-ideal weather conditions, the launch took place halfway through a 10-day launch window. The country's economic development minister celebrated the news, noting that New Zealand, which recently added $10.5 million to its newly formed space program, is "now one of 11 countries able to launch satellites into space from their own territory and the first to launch from a fully private orbital launch range."
Partnering with a private company adds an interesting component to the future of space travel. "In the past, it's been countries that go to space, not companies," says Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck, per the Chronicle, which notes the move opens the way to space for private businesses in a way not possible before. Rocket Lab designed the nimble, disposable Electron in just four years to carry small satellites that can provide services like affordable internet. Features include an engine built with 3D-printed and battery-juiced components, and a smaller size that allows for faster, more frequent flights, reports Wired. The company plans to analyze the data from Electron's flight to learn more about the launch and how future flights from its New Zealand base can be improved. (Read more space stories.)