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Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck says his company delivered a mysterious object into orbit during yesterday's Electron launch - but he's not revealing exactly what just yet.

Small satellites are becoming more common.


It's a big development for the industry, meaning that smaller companies will now be able to have their satellites launched into orbit for a relative fraction of what it cost in the past.

"Ten years ago, under the last Labour Government, Rocket Lab received its first research and development grant". But with a launcher like the Electron, small satellite operators can potentially pay for an entire rocket ride for their hardware, and Rocket Lab says individual flights may start as low as $4.9 million. The rocket carried three commercial satellites on this trip: a Dove Earth-imaging satellite for Planet and two Lemur satellites for Spire that track ships and weather. In May, the first Electron vehicle failed to reach orbit. The Electron makes use of carbon composite materials for its rocket core, and 3-D printing techniques for its Rutherford rocket engines. Just like that, Rocket Lab reaches orbit and sets a new bar for launch by reaching orbit on just their second test.

Then Rocket Lab also had some difficulty getting this second test flight off the ground.

New Zealand officially joined the ranks of commercial space-faring nations on Sunday and made history at the same time.

"Electron is orbital. Successful payload deployment", the company tweeted.

And that means Rocket Lab can finally start launching the payloads of its long customer lineup, which includes NASA, Spaceflight, and more.

"We're thrilled to reach this milestone so quickly after our first test launch", Beck said.

"Very nice launch. My heartiest congratulations to the Rocket Lab team".

Rocket Lab now has five Electron vehicles in production, with the next launch expected to take place in early 2018.

The company hopes to begin commercial launches next year and eventually launch one rocket every week.