Nasa joins Rocket Lab team to launch first New Zealand satellite into orbit

Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck with the Electron rocket propulsion system.

Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck with the Electron rocket propulsion system.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) has signed on to help a New Zealand company in its mission to launch a rocket into space. 

The United States government space agency has agreed to give Auckland-based company Rocket Lab use of its facilities in Cape Canaveral, Florida, which would enable it to launch rockets into orbits closer to the equator.

Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck said the company's primary launch pad would still be on Kaitorete Spit, near Birdlings Flat, Canterbury, which was ideal for launching smaller satellites. 

READ MORE: Birdlings Flat, from rugged outpost to rocket town

The venture would make New Zealand the first non-superpower to launch a rocket into orbit.

The agreement with Nasa, formalised last month, would give customers more options for the orbital position of their satellites, Beck said.

It also allowed Rocket Lab to utilise Nasa equipment and personnel.

READ MORE: Rocket Lab eyes Birdling's Flat, Canterbury, as launch site

Beck said his company's service would allow customers to launch satellites into orbit for communications, observational and internet-related purposes. 

Rocket Lab's project hinged on its ability to produce orbital rockets for $US4.9 million, allowing less cashed-up parties to launch satellites without the average $132m price tag.

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More than 30 launches were already booked, Beck said.

The first was scheduled to take place by the end of 2015.

Rocket Lab has received some of the necessary consents for the local launches.

Environment Canterbury granted it permission to discharge stormwater and airborne contaminants and a permit to occupy the coastal marine area when launching rockets.

Rocket Lab was restricted to four test firings, lasting no more than 30 seconds and, when operational, would have to provide 10 days' notice before launches. It would be restricted to 12 launches a year.

Any environmental risks of the rocket launch facility would be minor, ECan said.

Resource and building consent applications lodged with the Christchurch City Council were still being considered.

 - Stuff


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