A small rocket from a little-known company lifted off Sunday from the east coast of New Zealand, carrying a clutch of tiny satellites. That modest event — the first commercial launch by a U.S.-New Zealand company known as Rocket Lab — could mark the beginning of a new era in the space business, where countless small rockets pop off from spaceports around the world. This miniaturization of rockets and spacecraft places outer space within reach of a broader swath of the economy.
The rocket, called the Electron, is a mere sliver compared to the giant rockets that Elon Musk, of SpaceX, and Jeffrey P. Bezos, of Blue Origin, envisage using to send people into the solar system. It is just 56 feet tall and can carry only 500 pounds into space.