Rocket Lab launch site blessed
THE final frontier could be conquered as early as next June, when Rocket Lab expects to begin launching test rockets into space from its Mahia Peninsula site.
For Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck, launching his first 16m Electron rocket into space from what will be the world’s first commercial orbital launch site is a life-long dream.
On Saturday the remote site on Onenui Station was blessed and the lease agreement signed between Rocket Lab and the landowners — representatives of Tawapata South Incorporation.
Mr Beck gave a small perspex box to the spokesman for Tawapatu, George Mackey. He invited him to place things that are special to them in it, to be sent into orbit with the first launch next June. Some Onenui soil went into the box first.
“I’ve been dreaming for much of my life of putting something into space, and what the Mackey family places in the box will represent that 20-year dream.”
Mr Beck said breaking ground at the launch site was very special.
“We are trying to enable people to use space in a fundamentally different way. Space is very much unchartered — weather, GPS, it all comes from space but it remains a place that is hard to access.
“Your Sky bills are what they are because it costs so much to access space,” he said.
“Getting these assets into orbit will mean you can have internet anywhere, in the paddock for example . . . disseminating the knowledge of the world to everyone in the world is very empowering,” he said.
Mr Mackey said it was great for their 1700 shareholders in Onenui Station, for Mahia and Wairoa, and they were excited to support Rocket Lab.
The point overlooking Portland Island was a place of healing, rejuvenation and recharging said Ringatu Minister Bill McRoberts after blessing the site.
Mr Mackey said matua Bill had opened the heavens to allow them to become the world leaders in the space race.
A wonderful relationshipMayor of Wairoa Craig Little said it was a big occasion for Wairoa and he commended Onenui, Peter Beck and his operations manager Shane Flemming, and kaumatua Bill McRoberts.
“It’s a wonderful relationship.”
The Rocket Lab team working at Onenui include launch range lead Shaun D’Mello, who is leading the team in the development of the launch system and operation for the 16m rocket, flight safety and infrastructure.
He expected assets to be arriving from February and said they would continue to develop sites across the world.
Rocket Lab favoured the remote Onenui site for its wide range of launch window directions, low population and strong community and local government support, he said.
“This is the one that’s going through to launch.”
Bright, tiny stars ascending from the tip of Mahia will be visible up and down the east coast from June next year.
Rocket Lab recently announced Mahia was its priority launch location, partly due to issues gaining resource consent for a Christchurch site.
“The Mahia site is a much simpler site from a resource consenting perspective, being much more remote,” Mr Beck said.
The company was still pushing on with consenting its Birdlings Flat site on Banks Peninsula in Canterbury and, as part of a deal with Nasa, had options to use the US space agency’s launch sites in other countries.
Meeting a logistical challengeMr Beck said the Mahia farmland site was a logistical challenge as the rockets could not be manufactured at a centre nearby, but would be taken there almost complete from Auckland in a container.
Staff are being recruited for site works including a concrete pad, a launch tower for the carbon composite rockets, a hangar and a 4km access road. Satellite dishes and other communication equipment will also be installed.
The company has started recruiting people, including a project manager, to oversee construction of the site.
Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket is about a third the size of the rockets it will compete against to take satellites into space, and slashes launch costs from an average of about $US130m to $US4.9m.
Mr Beck said big tech companies such as Samsung, Canon and Google were now interested in getting satellites into space.
“That’s a whole different deal. If Samsung say they’re going to put internet in space it’s going to happen — there’s no ifs, buts or maybes,” he said.
Rocket Lab’s financial backers include Silicon Valley venture capitalists, Sir Stephen Tindall’s K1W1 investment fund, global aerospace business Lockheed Martin and the New Zealand government.