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Rocket Lab’s first US launch: Big for the company and the site

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Off in the southwest, the last colors of sunset lit up the rim of the sky, as a crescent Moon and two planets lined up above. It was a gorgeous scene, but one that everyone was ignoring. Instead, all eyes were focused on a bright patch of artificial light on a barrier island a couple of miles away. The lights there were focused on a small, slender needle—small enough to be hauled to the launch pad by a pickup truck.

For years, the Electron rocket and the company behind it had been stuck in limbo at the Virginia launch site, waiting on various approvals—for regulatory agencies to share enough paperwork with each other to convince everyone that the launch was safe. Then weather and the end-of-year holidays kept pushing the launch back. But on Tuesday, everything went as smoothly as it is possible to imagine, and the Electron shot to orbit almost as soon as the launch window opened.

The launch is critical for Rocket Lab, which in some ways invested the future of the company in its Virginia operations. But it’s also critical for the launch site, which is billed as a spaceport but hasn’t seen much traffic leaving Earth.

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