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Second pad work resumes, space junk clean up announced

With an Auckland alert-level change in place today, Rocket Lab is about to put the finishing touches to its second Mahia launch pad.

“We are in the last stages of construction for Launch Complex 1 Pad B with one final component awaiting installation — the top clamp on the strongback that holds Electron in place when it is vertical on the pad,” a Rocket Lab spokeswoman said.

“The fabrication of the top clamp was delayed by the national Alert Level 4 lockdown but since restrictions outside of Auckland have eased, we expect to receive and instal the top clamp in the coming weeks.

“Otherwise, work continues for our Mahia staff at Launch Complex 1 under the region's Alert Level 2 conditions — with remote virtual support where necessary from Rocket Lab's Auckland-based engineering staff — to complete Pad B and support a first launch from there in the coming months.”

The company's Mahia launch facility opened in September 2016.

Also today, the company announced it had signed a dedicated launch contract with Astroscale Japan, to carry out one of the world's first technology demonstrations of removing large-scale debris from orbit.

The mission is scheduled for lift-off from Mahia in 2023,

“The ability to actively remove satellites and debris from orbit at the end of their operational life will likely play a key role in ensuring a sustainable space environment for the future, so we're delighted to enable Astroscale to demonstrate new and innovative solutions in this field,” said Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck.

“Rendezvousing with a piece of debris on orbit, travelling at around 27,000kmh, is a highly complex task that requires absolute precision when it comes to orbital deployment. Electron's Kick Stage has demonstrated this precision across 18 missions, providing in-space transportation to place our customers' satellites exactly where they need to go.”

FIFTH BIRTHDAY: Rocket Lab's Mahia launch facility turns five this month, as work resumes to complete a second launch pad. Picture supplied