New Zealand space launch has nation reaching for the stars

May 21, 2017 by Nick Perry
In this May 19, 2017 photo supplied by Rocket Lab, engineers work with the Electron rocket at the launch site on the Mahia Peninsula in the North Island of New Zealand. New Zealand has never had a space program but could soon be launching commercial rockets more often than the United States. That's if the plans of California-based company Rocket Lab work out. Founded by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company was last week given approval by the Federal Aviation Authority to conduct three test launches from a remote peninsula and the first could come as early as Monday. (Rocket Lab via AP)

New Zealand has never had a space program but could soon be launching commercial rockets more often than the United States.

That's if the plans of California-based company Rocket Lab work out.

Founded by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company was last week given official approval to conduct three test launches from a remote peninsula in the South Pacific nation. Rocket Lab is planning the first launch of its Electron sometime from Monday, depending on conditions.

"So far, it's only superpowers that have gone into space," said Simon Bridges, New Zealand's economic development minister. "For us to do it, and be in the first couple of handfuls of countries in the world, is pretty impressive."

Rocket Lab sees an emerging market in delivering lots of small devices, some not much bigger than a smartphone, into low Earth orbit. The satellites would be used for everything from monitoring crops to providing internet service.

The company hopes to begin commercial launches later this year and eventually launch one rocket every week. It plans to keep costs low by using lightweight, disposable rockets with 3D-printed engines. It's a different plan than some other space companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX, which uses larger rockets to carry bigger payloads.

This Feb. 16, 2017 photo supplied by Rocket Lab, shows the Electron rocket at the launch site on the Mahia Peninsula in the North Island of New Zealand. New Zealand has never had a space program but could soon be launching commercial rockets more often than the United States. That's if the plans of California-based company Rocket Lab work out. Founded by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company was last week given approval by the Federal Aviation Authority to conduct three test launches from a remote peninsula and the first could come as early as Monday. (Rocket Lab via AP)

The venture has left New Zealand officials excited and struggling to keep up. Politicians are rushing through new space laws and the government has set up a boutique space agency, which employs 10 people.

Bridges said that if Rocket Lab is successful, it could change people's perception of New Zealand from a place full of farms and nice scenery to a technologically savvy nation on the rise.

He said the space industry could soon bring in hundreds of millions of dollars each year and rival industries like wine and kiwifruit. He envisions spinoff companies and many high-paying jobs, much of it built on the back of Rocket Lab.

The company's Electron rocket is unusual in many respects. It carries only a small payload of about 150 kilograms (331 pounds). It's made from carbon fiber and uses an electric engine. Rocket Lab says each launch will cost just $5 million, a tiny fraction of a typical rocket launch.

This Feb. 16, 2017 photo supplied by Rocket Lab, shows the Electron rocket at the launch site on the Mahia Peninsula in the North Island of New Zealand. New Zealand has never had a space program but could soon be launching commercial rockets more often than the United States. That's if the plans of California-based company Rocket Lab work out. Founded by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company was last week given approval by the Federal Aviation Authority to conduct three test launches from a remote peninsula and the first could come as early as Monday. (Rocket Lab via AP)

Unlike SpaceX, which aims to build a rocket that's fully reusable, Rocket Lab's rockets are disposable. Beck said they are light and use relatively little fuel. Customers who have signed up so far include NASA and Moon Express.

"Space has always held a fascination for me," said Beck. "Not enough people go out on nice starry night and look up."

Both Beck and Bridges are careful to temper expectations for the test launch, which is scheduled to take place within a 10-day window. They say there could be delays and things could go wrong.

Rocket Lab, which is privately held, has received about $150 million in venture capital funding, including an undisclosed amount from Bessemer Venture Partners in Silicon Valley.

In this Aug.16, 2016 photo supplied by Rocket Lab, Peter Beck poses for a portrait in Auckland, New Zealand. New Zealand has never had a space program but could soon be launching commercial rockets more often than the United States. That's if the plans of California-based company Rocket Lab work out. Founded by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company was last week given approval by the Federal Aviation Authority to conduct three test launches from a remote peninsula and the first could come as early as Monday. (Rocket Lab via AP)

Bessemer partner David Cowan said that for years, the trend was for both rockets and satellites to get bigger and bigger, until many satellites were the size of a bus or even a house.

Needs have changed rapidly over the last few years as technology has allowed tiny, cheap satellites to be put into lower orbits, he said.

Cowan, who is flying to New Zealand to witness the launch, said he was impressed with how local officials and everyday folks seem to be embracing the idea. On a recent visit to a sheep farm, he said a farmer who had no idea about his involvement in the project was eager to tell him how New Zealand would be launching a rocket.

Eric Stallmer, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Commercial Spaceflight Federation, said a couple of other companies are also trying to fill the niche that Rocket Lab is aiming for but there is plenty of potential for growth.

This Sept. 23, 2016 photo supplied by Rocket Lab, shows the launch site for the Electron rocket on the Mahia Peninsula in the North Island of New Zealand. New Zealand has never had a space program but could soon be launching commercial rockets more often than the United States. That's if the plans of California-based company Rocket Lab work out. Founded by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company was last week given approval by the Federal Aviation Authority to conduct three test launches from a remote peninsula and the first could come as early as Monday. (Rocket Lab via AP)

"There was a big hole in the market," Stallmer said. "We are pretty excited about what Rocket Lab is doing."

He said the U.S. is launching fewer than two-dozen commercial rockets a year and remains a world leader. Still, he thinks Rocket Lab's goal of 50 or more launches a year sounds ambitious, and would take several years to achieve.

Beck said the benefits of its launch site at Mahia Peninsula on the North Island include its location on a sliver of land that's almost surrounded by water and clear skies that are free from much air traffic.

Bevan Cutler, who moved to the area a couple of months ago and bought the Mahia Beach Store, said it's a beautiful place with lots of holiday homes. People come for the surfing, fishing and diving.

This Sept. 23, 2016 photo supplied by Rocket Lab, shows the launch site for the Electron rocket on the Mahia Peninsula in the North Island of New Zealand. New Zealand has never had a space program but could soon be launching commercial rockets more often than the United States. That's if the plans of California-based company Rocket Lab work out. Founded by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company was last week given approval by the Federal Aviation Authority to conduct three test launches from a remote peninsula and the first could come as early as Monday. (Rocket Lab via AP)

Some folk are upset the launches could result in the temporary closure of roads and fishing grounds, he said. Others are excited about the prospect of new customers and business opportunities.

Most, he said, are waiting to see what happens with the first test launch.

"It could have fairly large implications moving forward," Cutler said. "We just don't know yet."

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EmceeSquared
1 / 5 (2) May 21, 2017
While I applaud any responsible launches of peaceful space missions from any country, and recognize that country's efforts and risks in regulating the launches they permit, "New Zealand" isn't launching these missions. Rocket Lab, a California, USA corporation, is launching them.

Spacefaring companies and countries have a long history of launching in countries other than their actual home country. French Guyana and Khazakhstan among others have been launch sites many times, but those two are not "spacefaring nations".

Countries like the US, Russia, and now China and India, even smaller countries including Italy, Israel and Iran have each become "spacefaring nations". They each undertook large expenses and significant risks as national efforts to rightly claim national achievement in space launches. I look forward to a time when New Zealand does so if its government so chooses, but these Rocket Lab launches don't qualify.
EmceeSquared
1.5 / 5 (2) May 21, 2017
There might be a niche in the launch industry that Rocket Lab's missions could fill. But SpaceX is much more economical in basic terms. Rocket Lab claims $5M per 225 Kg mission:
https://www.gizmo...usiness/

That's $22.2K:Kg, but SpaceX Falcon 9 proved $60M per 22,800 Kg mission = $2630:Kg which is under 12% of Rocket Lab's costs. And that is before regular relaunch costs deliver on the SpaceX design for even cheaper orbital deliveries, maybe 7% or less of Rocket Lab's.

Rocket Lab's heliosync orbits are different than SpaceX's terrestrial orbits, so those are different niches. But if SpaceX reusable launchers do pan out there, they'll surely be used for heliosync too. Massifying the launch industry is the SpaceX premise, and a niche for only 225Kg payloads will be a very small niche indeed.
EmceeSquared
1 / 5 (1) May 21, 2017
How would you do that? You can't even cite the actual costs of people actually doing it now.

Lex Talonis:
$33,000

EmceeSquared
1 / 5 (2) May 21, 2017
Also, lots more countries than "superpowers" have gone into space:

* Crewed:
Soviet Union ( Russia) (1961)
USA (1961)
China (2003)

China isn't really a "superpower", and even less so in 2003.

* Uncrewed:
Soviet Union (1957)
United States (1958)
Italy (1964)
France (1965)
Australia (1967)
Japan (1970)
China (1970)
United Kingdom (1971)
Not the esa logo.png European Space Agency (1979)
India (1980)
Israel (1988)
Ukraine (1991)[5]
Russia (1992)*
Iran (2009)[6]
North Korea (2012)[citation needed]
South Korea (2013)[7]

https://en.wikipe...cefaring
GaryB
5 / 5 (1) May 21, 2017
Go for it California New Zealand 'ers! We're in a bit of a Cambrian explosion period of commercial space. Most won't survive ... but do give it a literal "shot"!

If New Zealand is smart, they'll set up a space port there, not let any single company to control it. Then, whomever wins, New Zealand wins.
EmceeSquared
2.3 / 5 (3) May 22, 2017
I had just posted a properly sourced cost rate shortly before you posted:
"Rocket Lab claims $5M per 225 Kg mission: [...] That's $22.2K:Kg"

So you've proven undeniably that you're stupid and not paying attention. You've proven you don't read the comment thread you're posting in, you don't check the assertions in the article. Which makes you a stupid troll. Consistent with all your other posts I've had the distasteful courtesy to read.

Oh, and you even misspell "Talionis" in your own username with your every post, so you're even screwing up your own hollow thuggish "retaliation" brand. What a failed troll you are.

But more to the point, despite your repetitive, stupid, empty bragging posts here you can't explain how you'd do it for less. Because you're nothing but a stupid troll. Posting is like some kind of Tourette's twitch for you. Shut up and seek help.

Lex Talonis
It's easy if your not stupid and paying attention.

EmceeSquared
3.7 / 5 (3) May 23, 2017
Post your DARPA invites. You won't even post an answer to a simple "how" question. Or spell your alias correctly.

I point out shit on the sidewalk for fellow pedestrians to avoid, too.

Lex Talonis:
@EmceeSquared

EmceeSquared
4 / 5 (4) May 23, 2017
Ah, you're a liar. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and you won't post even the most ordinary evidence. You're a liar, probably pathological.

And nothing but a troll. Goodbye.

Lex Talonis:
My research

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) May 24, 2017
New Zealand is developing it's own NUKES

Well, if you had Mordor next door, wouldn't you?

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