Customer Stories: Rocket Lab - Enabling An Innovator

What drives Rocket Lab to innovate?

Rocket Lab is on a mission to increase access to space to improve life on Earth as the world’s leading dedicated small satellite launch provider. Headquartered in Long Beach, California, Rocket Lab operates launch sites in Māhia, New Zealand and Wallops Island, Virginia.

Since its first orbital launch in January 2018, Rocket Lab has delivered several dozen satellites to orbit and delivered 100% mission success for customers to become a global leader in the space industry.

There are a few things we’re always focusing on at Rocket Lab which have innovation at its heart. Specifically, we’re always aiming to improve the performance of our launch vehicle, Electron; expand the range of payloads (or satellites) it can carry; lower the costs to launch; increase how frequently we can build and launch Electron; and push the launch and operation of Electron and Rocket Lab technology further and further into space.

All of this - while at the same time producing rockets our customers can rely on - requires constant innovation across our business from design and engineering, manufacturing, and launch operations and associated infrastructure.

Describe the role of Rosie the Robot on Rocket Lab’s innovation journey

Rocket Lab has introduced ‘Rosie’ the rocket-building-robot to our manufacturing line to help speed up the production of Electron launch vehicles. We’ve got a goal of building and launching one Electron every seven days, which Rosie will play a key part in helping us achieve.

The newly installed Rosie precision machines Electron’s carbon composite structures, including stage 1, stage 2, and the fairing. In only 12 hours, all marking, cutting, drilling, milling, and sanding is completed on a full vehicle - saving the team hundreds of hours of manual labour.

Commissioning Rosie means our Composite Technicians can focus their efforts in other areas of the manufacturing process and allow us to increase our production rate accordingly. At the same time, Rosie provides the means for us to fast-track ongoing development work, as design concepts from our engineering department can be sent directly to Rosie for prototype manufacture and evaluation.

What motivates you to come into work every day?

Personally, I’ve always been motivated to be involved in the development of new technology, especially where that technology truly changes the game. I don’t think there is any other environment that represents a greater challenge to developing technology than space, so it’s really exciting to do that and then watch it launch to space and orbit the Earth successfully. 

What similarities do you see between Rocket Lab and Facteon’s approaches to innovation?

Progress comes as a result of applying the relevant best practice methodology to solving critical problems. We had confidence early on with the engagement of Facteon that they had relevant expertise to deliver the custom solution we required for our 6th axis solution, which has become one of the critical aspects of Rosie. The sense of focus and dedication to excellence demonstrated by Facteon is certainly something that Rocket Lab identifies with.

Rocket Lab’s mission is to redefine how we access space. What’s the next step towards making that a reality?

The space industry is undergoing a huge shift. Satellite operators are moving away from launching large expensive satellites every once in a while, to launching lots of much smaller and cheaper satellites more frequently to build infrastructure and constellations in space.

With this change comes so many more opportunities for small satellite operators - from traditional government and commercial players, to university students testing technology and ideas in space cheaply with kitset spacecraft, to scientists and researchers conducting tests and experiments to monitor things like climate change and herd migration from higher above the Earth than they’ve ever used to.

To get these many thousands of ideas and technology into space, launch providers like Rocket Lab who can launch frequently and reliably will prove to be the most successful in, and valuable to, the global space industry.

Automating production (with the use of 3D-printed rocket engines, for example, which is how Rocket Lab’s Rutherford engines are manufactured) and simplifying machining processes to complete and launch more Electrons, more quickly, are key to becoming the global leader in small launch.

Rosie, along with all of our other measures and processes, have been implemented with one goal in mind – frequent, reliable, and responsive launch for small satellites.

Bill Hughes

Bill Hughes

Director of Vehicle Engineering - Rocket Lab

Bill Hughes has been with Rocket Lab for three years, initially focused on project managing several infrastructure projects including the layout design and retrofit of the new Rocket Lab building at 25 Levene Place and the recent installation of Rosie the Robot. More recently Bill has moved into a role managing staff and engineering projects relating to the development of Rocket Lab's Electron launch vehicle. Before Rocket Lab, Bill was involved in three campaigns with Emirates Team New Zealand (including the winning 2017 edition) and he worked at Air New Zealand and associated companies in a variety of engineering and management roles.