Rocket Lab eyes Birdling's Flat, Canterbury, as launch site video

Rocket Lab

A remote Canterbury paddock could launch New Zealand into the space race

A remote Canterbury paddock could launch New Zealand into the space race. 

A paddock near Birdlings Flat has been chosen by Auckland-based company, Rocket Lab as its preferred launch site for a rocket that can carry a satellite into orbit. 

If the venture succeeds New Zealand would join countries such as Iran, Israel, India, North and South Korea and Argentina, as well as the great powers, in staging a successful rocket launch.

Computer generated image of proposed rocket launch site, owned by Rocket Lab, for Bayleys Rd, Kaitorete Spit, near ...
Supplied

Computer generated image of proposed rocket launch site, owned by Rocket Lab, for Bayleys Rd, Kaitorete Spit, near Birdlings Flat in Canterbury.

What is revolutionary is Rocket Lab's plan to create rockets for under $US5 million, allowing smaller companies, research and environmental groups to launch their own satellites into space.

"We're looking at the democratisation of space," said Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck.

Last year 19 orbital rockets were launched in the United States at an average cost of $132m each - a price affordable only to governments and major corporations.

Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck hopes his firm will revolutionise the global space industry with the creation of a ...
Chris Skelton/Fairfax NZ

Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck hopes his firm will revolutionise the global space industry with the creation of a cheaper rocket able to launch small satellites into orbit.

Rocket Lab's ambitious project hinged on the its ability to produce orbital rockets for $US4.9m. It used 3D printers to produce the engines and a body made from lightweight carbon fibre. The rockets were 1m in diameter and 20m tall.

Beck said New Zealand had never launched an orbital rocket before.

However, the site at Bayleys Rd, Kaitorete Spit, was uniquely placed for such launches as there were few planes or marine traffic at risk of disruption. The picturesque spot also had the best launch trajectory, or "azimuth".

Easy access to Christchurch was also important as the US-owned company wanted to establish a rocket manufacturing plant there.

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"We're looking at creating 200 jobs," Beck said. 

Rockets, about one metre in size, would carry satellites into space for commercial customers. The company had over 30 launches booked already, he said. 

Beck said preparations were under way to submit resource consent applications to Christchurch City Council for the launch site. 

The proposal has attracted concern about the potential impact on the environment from the Green Party.

Spokeswoman for conservation, Eugenie Sage said the Kaitorete Spit was a nationally significant ecosystem and natural landscape feature containing habitat for threatened lizards, rare invertebrates and threatened plants such as Muehlenbechia astonii .

"The launch activities potentially disturb wildlife."

Sage said local residents were concerned about the potential impact of a launch on access to conservation reserves and other public land during the launches. 

Applications for three consents from Rocket Lab were lodged with Environment Canterbury on June 15.

These consents are to discharge contaminants to air, discharge stormwater, and to provide a coastal permit for temporary occupation of the coastal marine area associated with the operation of a rocket launching complex.

Beck said the company would be working with affected parties. 

"This is an announcement of our intentions so we are at the start of the process and will be working with all the relevant parties," Beck said. 

He said the launch site would be no bigger than a tennis court and would have minimal impact on the land.

Rocket launches were loud, but the noise was for a very short time.

Initially Rocket Lab would launch one rocket a month, but aimed to increase frequency to one a week using a number of sites. Beck said. 

"People don't realise how critically reliant we are on satellites."

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket was built to launch low earth orbit satellites, which had a life span of 5-7 years and reduced to dust after that time. 

This made them more sustainable than geo syncronist satellites, which stayed in space of 10,000 years, Beck said. 

This story has been corrected to note that many countries have been the staging ground for rocket launches.

 - Stuff

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