Rocket Lab looking for US launch site

Rocket Lab staff in front of "It's Business Time" during the June launch window at Mahia (via @peter_j_beck).

RELATED AUDIO: Peter Beck on Rocket Lab's plan to gear up for a launch a week (Jan 22)

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Rocket Lab says it is looking at four US locations for its second launch site.

The Auckland-founded, American-controlled startup currently has one launch location, its custom-built facility at Mahia Peninsula on the East Coast.

It says it has narrowed down a search for its new American site to a shortlist of four locations: Cape Canaveral, Wallops Flight Facility,  the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base.

A decision on the confirmed site, to be named Launch Complex 2, is expected to be made in August.

Although each potential site is already an established launch facility, Rocket Lab will build its own launchpad at the chosen location, with an eye to its first US flight in the second quarter of 2019.

Spokeswoman Morgan Bailey tells NBR Rocket Lab plans to ultimately stage one launch a week in New Zealand (where it is licensed for one every 72 hours) and once a month in the US.

The news does not come as a surprise. Last year, Rocket Lab chief executive and founder Peter Beck told NBR his company would consider sites outside New Zealand for its second launch site.

After a successful test launch of its Electron rocket in January, Rocket Lab has twice tried to launch its first commercial flight from Mahia, in April and June. Both launch attempts were scrubbed because of a problem with a motor controller on the Electron, which is designed to deliver small satellites into low-earth orbit for the (in aerospace terms) bargain-basement price of $US5 million. 

Another launch attempt is expected in a few weeks; exact dates for the new launch window have yet to be set.

Founded in 2006, Rocket Lab was valued at more than $US1 billion during its latest round of private equity fundraising.

Mr Beck and local investor Sir Stephen Tindall still own stakes but US aerospace and defence giant Lockheed Martin and Silicon Valley's Khosla Ventures are now the big-note shareholders.

The company is now based at Huntington Beach, south of Los Angeles, where its "Rutherford" engines are now also manufactured, and has taken to billing itself in press releases as "a US orbital launch provider."

Rocket Lab currently employs around 200 staff, with the majority in NZ. It's currently looking to hire another 50 (39 n Auckland, nine in LA and two in Mahia).


Watch the full video on Peter Beck's NBR Radar profile by pressing the play button


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11 Comments & Questions

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Rocket Lab is a success story but only as a start up

It has only launched one commercial launch and has failed on the following two launch schedules - one in very mysterious circumstances.

The company is now well behind its planned schedule and has no chance of meeting its proposed program by the end of the year

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The January test flight (Rocket Lab's second test flight, but first to deliver a payload to orbit) was effectively its first commercial flight, too, since it carried cube-sats from paying customers.

But, yes, it has now been a long time between drinks.

Last year, Peter Beck told NBR Radio he was aiming for a launch a month by the end of this year, and a launch a fortnight by the end of 2019. Right now, those targets look like a stretch.

Still, early days. And despite the creeping Yankee influence, Rocket Lab still employs around 200 Kiwis in high-value jobs (and it's trying to hire another 39 as I type), so I wish them well.

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I would love them to succeed and really admire Peter Beck and his very skilled team

But they need to graduate from back street boys to real leaders in this sector - and deliver from now on or they risk losing support - publicly and financially

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"Back street boys" what planet are you on?

If not Rocket Lab who are the real leaders?

Japan's recent attempt just blew up.

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What about KILLDEVILHILLS as a launching spot.The nearest township to where the Wright Bros took off at Kitty Hawk.

A bit of history could be created

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New Zealand's Richard Pearse was the first to achieve manned flight, on March 31, 1903 (using Main Waitohi Road adjacent to his farm, near Temuka, as his airstrip).

The Wright brothers did match his feat until much, much later, on December 17, 1903.

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Chris, have you ever compared the wing area of Richard Pearse's plane with the wing area of the Wright plane?

There is no chance that Richard's plane could fly and the attempt to build and test a copy of it has sunk without trace.

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According to WIKI evidence of this flight is open to interpretation.

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I think this is a valid question:

Why would anyone go with Rocket Lab when they can go with SpaceX or Bezo's venture? In a US context...

In a NZ context however it makes sense... ie launch from NZ.

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Rocket Lab can get a small payload like a cube-sat into low-earth orbit for $US5 million. Space X's rockets can carry much larger payloads, and into higher orbits, but with little change from $US100m.

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Bezo' orbital launch planned for 2020. Assuming it is late etc then perhaps RocketLab has 2 years head start. At that time why ride on an untested Bezos rocket verses a RocketLab one?

Also demand will no doubt continue to grow. More than enough room for different players.

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