“Fundamentally, it’s very difficult. The total mass of the rocket – one percent you actually put into orbit” Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab.


On the 26th September this year, the tiny nation of New Zealand entered the space race with the opening of the Rocket Lab Launch Complex. The sci-fi sounding spaceport is the world’s only privately owned launch site and will be the home to space exploration where locally made rockets will carry small satellites into orbit. The site will also be available to overseas space engineering companies to test and evaluate products. To date, only 9 other countries have launched rockets into space with most of these being super powers with the budgets to afford the expensive undertaking. Rocket Lab is just the second private company to launch material into space.

rocket3Rocket Lab Launch Site Mahia Peninsula


Many people are fascinated by rockets. It’s the combination of danger, noise, violent propulsion and the unexpected that attracts them. Rocket Lab Launch Complex is tipped to attract wealthy, tech-savvy tourists who want to experience rocket launches in the somewhat incongruous isolation of the New Zealand countryside. It is planned to launch a rocket a week starting at the end of this year. The longer term aim is at least 100 launches a year. This is impossible to do in the countries that already have launch sites because of the heavy concentration of people, shipping and aircraft clogging their communication systems.


Rocket Lab has tapped into the rapidly growing CubeSat market. These are small satellites used for research, along with weather monitoring and earth observation. To date, NASA has launched 46 CubeSats with another 57 planned for use on various projects including relaying communications on future Moon and Mars missions.

rocket554CubeSat (


Rocket Lab has spent a decade developing its space technologies resulting in the Electron Rocket. This impressive vehicle fires in two stages to propel the payload of 150kg 500 km into space to then position it in a sun-synchronous orbit allowing the equipment on the satellite to remain in sunlight while it orbits the earth. This is crucial for any surveillance work. Commercial liftoffs are planned from early next year with a starting price of  $4.9 million US dollars. At the moment, launch costs at overseas rocket sites are $56 million US dollars. It’s quite a saving and will generate a dramatic increase in space based activity. Already Rocket Lab has bookings for 30 launches with NASA being one of the clients.

rocket2Electron Rocket

The Electron Rocket’s light weight is the result of carbon composite technology, similar to new generation commercial jet aircraft. It’s revolutionary Rutherford engine is the world’s first battery powered rocket engine and the first new rocket propulsion system developed in the past 50 years. This state-of-the-art rocket will blast off with 10 tonnes of kerosene and liquid oxygen in its fuel chamber. To place a satellite into orbit, the Electron Rocket will use the same amount of fuel as a standard sized jet would use on a flight between San Francisco and Los Angeles or London to Edinburgh, about 400 miles (650km). In other words, it is very fuel efficient.


New Zealand’s Massey University noticed the interest in space technology and last September it organized a two day Rocketry Boot Camp for school kids. Their challenge was to design, build and launch a rocket carrying a raw egg. The rocket must then return to earth with the egg intact. The winning team then goes onto a national challenge.

Massey University wasn’t the only educational organization to discover young people’s interest in space technology. Aerospace Education is Australasia’s only company specifically dedicated to all aspects of rocketry. It was set up to supply education aids to New Zealand schools as well as organizing programmes and events for students interested in rocketry.

Along with these two initiatives, in 2010, the KiwiSpace Foundation was created by a group of enthusiastic space advocates to also help ignite a vibrant New Zealand space industry and plans to offer education aids to anybody interested in space technologies. It is another sign this small country wants to be a serious contender in the space race.


Although New Zealand is a small, isolated country with a population of just 4.5 million, it has produced a number of world famous people.  A New Zealander was the first to climb Mt. Everest. A New Zealander created the phenomenally successful “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” films. A teenaged New Zealander introduced her award winning ‘Gothic Pop’ music to the world and a New Zealand scientist split the atom and propelled the world into the nuclear age.

Following this tradition of innovation and invention, Kiwi visionary and ‘Rocket Man’ Peter Beck created his Rocket Lab in 2007 with his focus on making space more accessible. With barriers to sea, land and air being removed during the 20th century, he felt it was time to break the barriers that exist in entering space.

After leaving school, Peter found work in a home appliance factory. It was there he started tinkering with the equipment he found around him in the design department. The result was a rocket bike that set his passion for propulsion technology alight. He made a trip to the USA and returned with a cruise missile engine, telling customs it was parts for an aircraft!

In 2009, Peter launched his first serious rocket from Great Mercury Island, a private island owned by a prominent businessman . The 6metre (20ft) long vehicle weighing 60kg lifted off and reached a speed of 5000kph . Named Atea-1 which means ‘space’ in Maori, the rocket took 20 seconds to reach 100km into the atmosphere and stayed aloft for around 15 minutes before thundering back to earth. It marked the first privately launched rocket in the southern hemisphere.

You can see the launch in this video:


The USA is recognized as the world’s top space nation but last year they completed only 19 rocket launches. Peter is confident his budget launches will be popular with clients from all over the world especially with the 91% reduction in launch costs his company offers.

New Zealand is recognized as a safe place. This adds to Rocket Lab’s attraction. Clients can launch equipment into space without it being noted by potential rivals. Over the past decade, tens of millions of dollars have been invested in Rocket Lab. It’s now payback time and the future looks bright for this innovative New Zealand company and its team of young dedicated space technicians.

This year, ‘EY Entrepreneur Of The Year’, the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs, was awarded to Peter.

We’re going to change the world!” Peter Beck

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