Watching the Rocket Lab - In Focus Launch 10/28/2020 video linked below, there is a section at 12:50:

The ability to deploy new satellites to precise orbits in a matter of hours, not months or years, is critical to maintaining a resilient space architecture.

I did not think this is possible. How can satellites be FAA approved in a matter of hours to be launched on Electron? or there are satellites which are pre-approved, and waiting to be launched in case an older one becomes unusable? I am interested in the truthfullness of the quote above.

video cued at 12:21

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Great question! I added the video link and cued it at the beginning of the particular segment because "national security" is mentioned and I think that is relevant here. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Nov 1, 2020 at 23:41
  • $\begingroup$ How long it takes to get an approval from FAA? $\endgroup$
    – Joe Jobs
    Nov 2, 2020 at 2:35
  • $\begingroup$ When I first saw the launch, I assumed it was in reference to the Photon, delivering the sats to unique orbit. Removing the Orbit changing maneuvers that can take time. re-watching it, I can see they are implying a full rocket launch. $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2020 at 14:32

2 Answers 2


In addition to Dragongeeks existing answer, Electron has a couple of advantages in design when it comes to achieving launch on demand.

The cost per vehicle is relatively low - easier for a customer to justify paying to keep a rocket on standby.

The rockets are physically smaller, and integrate horizontally so it is feasible to keep a stack assembled and ready to go in a non absurd building. In addition it looks like the actual ganitary/TEL supports moving fully assembled rockets around.

The smaller vehicle size mean the support buildings are closer (see video) so easier to quickly traverse from assembly building to the pad.

Not trying to recover first stages means they can be less fussy on weather (and getting a recovery ship into place).

The electric pumps and electric vectoring reduce the consumables (hydraulic fluid, monoprops, hypergolic starters) to be either loaded at launch or left in the assembled rocket (and therefore need servicing).

Similarly a turbo pump motor can only be tested 'hot' on a test stand with propellants running through it, the electric pumps and actuators can be run up indoors which is quicker and easier on maintain on standby basis. The mechanically simpler motor may also be easier to preserve for storage and de mothball for flight.

The electric pumps should in theory also offer better odds of a launch once ignition sequence started since they can have more certainty the all 18 pumps on the first stage will in fact spin up on demand unlike the more complicated turbopump step up sequence.

The mission profile of one satellite per rocket, rather than SpaceX rideshare arrangement is why the wording about precise delivery. Your payload is not waiting until every other one on the launch is ready, and can be directly inserted into the target orbit rather than one that suits all involved payloads and then have to adjust into final orbit over one or more days.

The slightly cynical answer is that the PR team knew they could not compete on price so came up with something else.

  • $\begingroup$ "Not trying to recover first stages" – They are actually trying to do that. They have already successfully caught a dummy during a drop test, and done two atmospheric tests. On flight 17, they are planning a soft splashdown and ocean recovery to assess the state of the booster. "The mission profile of one satellite per rocket" – Actually, 11 of the 15 launches so far carries multiple payloads. And just last week they demonstrated that the kick stage can perform orbit changes. $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2020 at 7:27

Rocket Labs is primarily a launch provider and are responsible for the rocket.

When they say that they have (or are working towards having) the "ability to launch in hours", FAA or other satellite certification processes aren't included in that time estimate--the "burden of proof" or certification in this case is with the customer/payload manufacturer so any hangups would be customer-side delays.

Additionally, there are situations where FAA approval could be fast tracked or ignored. For example, the US military (probably) keeps finished replacement satellites on Earth in storage so that they can be rapidly launched in the event that existing military satellites are taken out by, for example, an EMP. Having the ability to quick-launch makes Rocket Labs very attractive to them.

  • $\begingroup$ So why not claim "launch within minutes" then? $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2020 at 11:33
  • $\begingroup$ @SE-stopfiringthegoodguys Electron isn't a solid-fuel ICBM that can be kept at ready-to-launch indefinitely. Before launch the rocket needs to be fueled, batteries need to be charged, the payload needs to be integrated, the rocket needs to be physically put on the launchpad, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Nov 2, 2020 at 11:40

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