Rocket Lab's plan to end space junk

A Rocket Lab launch at Mahia.
A Rocket Lab launch at Mahia. Photo credit: Rocket Lab/Twitter

US-New Zealand company Rocket Lab is heading back into orbit again, this time with a device that'll ensure it doesn't add to the growing amount of space junk in orbit.

The mission, dubbed 'It's Business Time', will see a rocket launched from Mahia Peninsula on an afternoon sometime between June 23 and July 6. It'll be Rocket Lab's first commercial launch, if it's a success.

The launch window was delayed last month after technical issues were discovered in a motor controller. The delay has allowed more customers to put stuff on board, says Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck.

"That a customer can come to us seeking a ride to orbit and we can have them booked to launch in weeks is unheard of in the launch business," Mr Beck said.

"Small satellites are playing an increasingly important role in providing crucial services that benefit millions of people on Earth. Frequent access to orbit is the key to unlocking the potential for these satellites, and Rocket Lab is the only small launch provider currently enabling this access."

One of the last-minute payloads is the NABEO drag sail, which Rocket Lab says was "created to passively de-orbit inactive small satellites".

"The small sail is an ultra-thin membrane that can be coiled up tightly within a spacecraft and then deployed once the satellite reaches the end of its orbital lifespan. The reflective panels unfold to 2.5 square meters to increase the spacecraft's surface area, causing it to experience greater drag and pull the satellite back into the Earth's atmosphere, enabling much faster de-orbiting and reducing the amount of space junk."

Keeping the amount of junk in space low is crucial to Rocket Lab's business model, which aims to put more things into space quicker than older, more established space companies.

Ironically, the company was accused of space littering earlier this year when it launched the 'Humanity Star'.

Rocket Lab's first successful launch was in January, making New Zealand the 11th nation to make it into space.