Vector Space Systems has conducted a suborbital test flight on August 3, 2017 of its B0.002 test vehicle, a full-scale prototype of the company’s Vector-R launch vehicle. The rocket lifted off around 12:15 p.m. EDT (1:15 p.m. UTC) and reportedly reached an altitude of 10,000 ft (3,048 m). This launch represents Vector’s first launch for a paying customer as well as the first launch from Spaceport Camden in Georgia.
Customers that had payloads on the flight include Astro Digital, a leader in real-time satellite imagery data, and the Center for Applied Space Technology, an organization focused on space-based medicine research and applications.
A primary objective of the August 3 test was the demonstration and evaluation of a next-generation 3D additively manufactured engine injector developed through a collaborative research program with NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. This injector was ground tested last month and an earlier version was used in Vector’s initial B0.001 launch vehicle in May. The August 3 launch represents another milestone for Vector, as it was the first time spark igniter technology developed with University of Alabama – Huntsville and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center was attempted to start the booster main engine.
This is the second major flight test for Vector Space Systems. The first test occurred on May 3, 2017. Ultimatley Vector wants to launch payloads into orbit. For now, it is testing rocket subsystems by conducting suborbital launches. Conducting orbital launches will also require licenses from the FAA for both Vector’s rockets and the still-under-construction Spaceport Camden.
Vector Space is one of many new entrants into the launch market. Companies like Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab are designing lightweight launch vehicles that cater to small satellite operators. Small satellite operators currently launch their satellites as secondary payloads on larger launch vehicles. However, the lightweight launch vehicles offer more flexibility for the SmallSats, since that will be their primary customer.