Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Rocket Lab countdown: High winds delay launch

Rocket Lab has delayed for a day an attempt to send its Electron rocket into space from its base in Mahia on the East Coast.

It says high winds on the peninsula have forced it to have another go tomorrow.

The company has said weather and other technical factors will dictate whether the test launch can be attempted. What one local described as a nasty southerly blew through at the weekend and it will hang around today.

The wind is forecast to be blowing from the southwest at more an 20km/h this morning.


Rocket Lab has scheduled a road closure on the route running to the test site today from 9am to 8pm but this is now scheduled for tomorrow.

More than 700 people live on the peninsula between Gisborne and Wairoa and one of them, Joe Hedley, said last night the weather had been rough over the weekend with strong, cold southerlies and a big swell running.

"It's pretty quiet at the moment. We're all waiting for the first launch. There's been a couple of people who have said they want to be here to see a bit of history," he said.

About 40 Rocket Lab staff were on the launch pad site at the southern tip of the peninsula. The site was chosen by the New Zealand-founded company for its southeasterly aspect and because it is so remote and private.

Rocket Lab says it will release footage of the launch - if it is successful.

With more than 10 tonnes of a liquid oxygen-kerosene fuel mix a catastrophic failure would be dramatic.

Rocket Lab says it has three test launches planned before carrying commercial cargo of small satellites into low Earth orbit. which it can do more frequently than its competitors and more easily from a test site with little aviation activity around it.

The only regular international flight in the vicinity is a Latam airlines Dreamliner heading for Chile and back, so clearing air space is not a major issue compared with launch sites in other countries.

The launch timeline is lengthy, with a lift-off about six hours after the road is closed, pushing it into the mid-afternoon.

Rocket Lab says launch postponements or scrubs were common and should be expected.

Hedley said he had been advised it would be difficult to get a glimpse of the rocket, even from the peninsula. After a slow lift off to clear the portable tower, the rocket would accelerate to a maximum speed of 27,000km/h, meaning it may only be visible from a good spot for about nine seconds, he said.

The project has attracted criticism, including from some who have questioned the Government's funding of up to $25 million, and from Greenpeace, which has raised concerns about the environmental impact of parts of the rocket falling into the sea.

Hedley said although there were a "couple of antis" among locals the vast majority supported the project.

Some locals had got jobs building roads and providing houses to rent.

Customers signed to fly on Electron include Nasa, Planet, Spire and Moon Express.

The vehicle is capable of delivering payloads of up to 150kg to a 500km sun-synchronous orbit; the target range for the high-growth constellation-satellite market.

Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by Peter Beck.

The company has its registered headquarters in Los Angeles.

Besides the Government, Rocket Lab also has backing from Sir Stephen Tindall's K1W1 Ltd, massive Silicon Valley funding and support from American global aerospace company Lockheed Martin.

- NZ Herald

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