Rocket Lab launches for the first time from Wallops, Virginia.

Rocket Lab, one of the most successful space startups since SpaceX, launched its Electron rocket for the first time Tuesday night from NASA’s Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.

The Electron rocket launched from the refurbished launch pad around 6:00 p.m. and was visible from the DC metropolitan area. The California-based company has previously launched missiles from its New Zealand facility, but hopes to fly more frequently from the United States.

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The Wallops facility is located near Chincoteague and has been around for decades. In addition to Rocket Lab, there is Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket, which performs resupply missions to the International Space Station.

A few years ago, Rocket Lab moved in, adding a commercial partnership to what Virginia hopes will become a thriving list of space companies operating at the site. The company looked at other facilities in the United States, such as the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, but ultimately chose Wallops partly because of the opportunity to expand its operations there.

“KSC is an amazing scope, but I think everyone has to agree, it’s pretty busy,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a phone call with reporters last year. “While here we can achieve almost the same trajectories from Virginia. The range isn’t that busy and there’s plenty of room for growth.”

With its compact size, just under 60 feet tall, the Electron is designed to carry small satellites in no time. This is a capability of particular interest to the Pentagon and the US intelligence community. This is another reason why Rocket Lab chose Wallops; it’s just a little over three hours from Washington DC.

Tuesday’s premiere has been delayed from December. The rocket carried three satellites manufactured by HawkEye 360, a Herndon, Virginia-based company that operates satellites capable of detecting radio frequencies. Just over an hour after launch, the company said the satellites had been successfully deployed.

In addition to launching the Electron, the company plans to launch its much larger Neutron rocket from Wallops. This rocket is to be reusable – after being launched into space, it would turn around and fly back to the launch pad. Beck said the company will attempt to land on Neutron on its first flight, scheduled for 2024.

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