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Rocket Lab looking for US launch site

The $US1 billion startup, founded in Auckland, says it is down to a short-list of four North American locations.

Wed, 11 Jul 2018

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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Rocket Lab looking for US launch site