Rocket Lab secures NZ launch site for the next 20 years

Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck says the company is looking for a US launch site.

Rocket Lab has secured Overseas Investment Office (OIO) approval to sign long-term land leases for its New Zealand launch site and tracking station. 

The Auckland-founded, American-controlled aerospace startup has secured its launch location, a custom-built facility on 25 hectares of Mahia Peninsula on the East Coast, for the next 20 years.

It also has approval for farmland for a tracking station that communicates with launch vehicles and satellites on the Chatham Islands for the next two decades.

The investment approval allows the company to complete its testing phase and move into a commercial phase. Rocket Lab has been carrying out research, development and testing through its headquarters in Auckland.

In its decision the OIO says in its commercial phase, Rocket Lab is likely to deliver “new professional opportunities in high-technology engineering, new technology and business skills, export services, and to provide opportunities for New Zealanders.”

Rocket Lab scrubbed its June/July launch window due to issues with a motor controller and a tracking satellite.

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

Earlier this month, it announced it is looking at four US locations for its second launch site.

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

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

Chief executive Peter Beck and 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."