NZ's Rocket Lab launches 13 tiny probes

Rocket Lab, a rocket propulsion company backed by investors in Silicon Valley, has launched a batch of 13 tiny probes from New Zealand to study space.

Space start-up Rocket Lab has launched into orbit a rocket carrying 13 satellites for the US space agency NASA from its launch pad in New Zealand.

"We have lift-off," the company confirmed on Twitter on Sunday.

The mission is the small satellite launch company's second commercial flight and the first in partnership with US space agency NASA.

The launch is a significant moment for the industry, as it marks the first time NASA has booked a ride for its CubeSats on a commercial launch vehicle, Rocket Lab said in a statement.

Rocket Lab's 17-metre Electron rocket lifted off from the Mahia Peninsula on NZ's North Island, the world's first privately-owned orbital launch site,

The US company with facilities in NZ wants to remove barriers to commercial space by providing frequent launch opportunities, aiming for weekly launches for commercial clients. In comparison, 83 successful launches were made worldwide in 2017.

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket uses 3D-printed engines and is designed to send small payloads, such as imaging and communications satellites weighing up to 150kg, into space.

A new production facility that was opened in Auckland in October is aiming to build, test and launch an Electron rocket every month in 2019 and every week by the end of 2020.

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