New Zealand launches into space race with
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[May 25, 2017]
By Charlotte Greenfield
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Rocket Lab, a
Silicon Valley-funded space launch company, on Thursday launched the
maiden flight of its battery-powered, 3-D printed rocket from New
Zealand's remote Mahia Peninsula.
"Made it to space. Team delighted," Rocket Lab said on its official
The successful launch of a low cost, 3D-printed rocket is an important
step in the commercial race to bring down financial and logistical
barriers to space while also making New Zealand an unlikely space hub.
The Los Angeles and New Zealand-based rocket firm has touted its service
as a way for companies to get satellites into orbit regularly.
"Our focus with the Electron has been to develop a reliable launch
vehicle that can be manufactured in high volumes – our ultimate goal is
to make space accessible by providing an unprecedented frequency of
launch opportunities," said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and chief
executive in a statement.
The firm had spent the past four years preparing for the test launch and
last week received the go-ahead from the U.S. Federal Aviation
Administration, which is monitoring the flight.
Bad weather had delayed the rocket from taking off three times this
New Zealand has created new rocket legislation and set up a space agency
in anticipation of becoming a low-cost space hub.
Ships and planes need re-routing every time a rocket is launched, which
limits opportunities in crowded U.S. skies, but New Zealand, a country
of 4 million people in the South Pacific, has only Antarctica to its
south. The country is also well-positioned to send satellites bound for
a north-to-south orbit around the poles.
But many locals in the predominantly Māori community were not happy with
access to public areas blocked.
"People come to Mahia so they can go to the beach and it's been chopped
off now and by the sounds of it one of these rockets are going to be
launching one every 30 days so they've taken over our lifestyle," said
Mahia farmer Pua Taumata.
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A supplied image of the launch and maiden flight of a
battery-powered, 3-D printed rocket built by Rocket Lab, a Silicon
Valley-funded space launch company, at New Zealand's remote Mahia
Peninsula, May 25, 2017. Rocket Lab/Handout via REUTERS
But Taumata also said the program could bring opportunities.
"I'm for technology ... a lot of things could come of it through
education. It gives our children something different in their careers.
Nobody thought to get into the space industry (before now)," he said.
Rocket Lab is one of about 30 companies and agencies worldwide
developing small satellite launchers as an alternative to firms jostling
for space on larger launches or paying around $50 million for a
dedicated service. The company said in a statement it has now received
$148 million in funding and is valued in excess of $1 billion.
Rocket Lab's customers include NASA, earth-imaging firm Planet and
startups Spire and Moon Express.
The firm will carry out two more tests before it starts commercial
operations, slated to begin toward the end of this year.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Michael Perry)
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