NZ headquartered Rocket Lab is building a launch vehicle, called Electron, at a price of less than US$5 million.
The rockets, that are being built in the Auckland facility, is intended to reduce the price of delivering satellites into orbit, while cutting lead time for businesses to launch a satellite from the current years to weeks.
“The innovation behind Electron will release the limitations on launching small satellites. Our vision at Rocket Lab is to make space commercially viable and more accessible than ever before, doing what the Ford Model T did for consumer automobiles. This technology will really open space for business.
“Along with benefits for commercial enterprises, cheaper and faster space access has the potential to lead to more accurate weather prediction, global high speed Internet access, as well as real-time monitoring of the impacts of human development,” says Peter Beck, CEO and founder at Rocket Lab.
Electron, which weighs more than 10 tonnes, is capable of delivering payloads of upto 100 kg into low Earth orbits. The rocket is designed to be an expendable launch missile, which means parts will disintegrate on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, though some parts can be salvaged and re-used, according to Beck.
Beck founded the company in 2007 with a vision of eliminating the commercial barriers to space. The company states that commitments from commercial entities are already in place for the first 30 launches.
“Rocket Lab has interest from large traditional players to new start-ups who are all trying to access space in a hurry and affordably. Interested industries include earth imaging, communication and weather satellites. The commitments are coming from the United States.
“New Zealand is very lucky to have an ideal launch position for a variety of different types of orbits so we will be launching from a New Zealand location. Rocket Lab is expecting the first launch to take place in 2015,” says Beck.
Rocket Lab’s principal funder is Silicon Valley’s Khosla Ventures, a venture capital firm that supports companies with projected revenues in excess of US $1 billion. Rocket Lab is an American firm, with a subsidiary and headquarters in Auckland.
“Currently the team is about 25 people strong, but Rocket Lab is currently hiring. I am currently seeking the best and brightest engineers and technicians to join the team. A full list of current vacancies is available here.,” states Beck.
Rocket Lab received NZ government funding through the Callaghan Innovation Growth Grants programme in January 2014. As part of receiving the grant, the company has committed to spend at least $300,000, and at least 1.5 per cent of revenue, on R&D occurring in New Zealand.