It's T minus three months for Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck. Some time next year, the result of a lifetime of dreaming, a decade's dedicated work and tens of millions of dollars of investment capital will be launched from a remote part of the East Coast. The most powerful machine to fly from this country will be headed for orbit. READ MORE: • Rocket Lab's kill switch for $7m machine "We're trying to do something that is tremendously challenging," says the perpetually youthful looking Beck. Given that the kerosene is about to hit the turbo pump in a live launch, he seems remarkably relaxed. "I'm pleased that I don't show it but there's an enormous amount of stress not just on me, but on the entire company right now because every single person in this company is critical to mission success. Every person in this company can make this a wild success or a dismal failure - that's the nature of the game." He's not a big sleeper, but he's not getting any less than usual. "This is what I want to do with my life - it's not that I feel I get sick of this and I want to go and sit on the beach." On an as-yet undisclosed date, he says the one million-horsepower Electron rocket will be test fired from the Mahia Peninsula launch site, aimed for a low Earth orbit. Watch: Taking New Zealand to the stars
Every person in this company can make this a wild success or a dismal failure - that's the nature of the game.Tindall says: "The first time I met him was when I popped my head around the door on the way from visiting (biofuel startup) LanzaTech and I introduced myself. He was very generous with his time and showed us all around." Tindall says he and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla had invested in LanzaTech and they then invested in Rocket Lab as well. "The things that excited us the most was, number one, Peter, who was a consummate rocket scientist - he'd really done his apprenticeship and had spent a lot of time on this and become a world expert. He has a proven record in the industry and he's embraced the latest technology and gone beyond that with his own R&D and come up with something that is really the 787 of space." Tindall says he also got good feedback from Sir Michael Fay, on whose Great Mercury Island Beck test fired the first multi-stage rocket in 2009. "The other thing that appealed to us was the quality of the Phd's that he's been able to recruit from around the world, dropping amazing jobs often with higher salaries to follow their dream to get this thing up and running." K1W1 Ltd has about 3.8 per cent of Rocket Lab (Beck won't discuss his stake), which is now a US registered company, with its legal offices located in a Los Angeles complex named after aerospace dreamer Howard Hughes.
We're building up to commercial flights, not up to this one launch - the things that excite me are when we enable customers to do something very cool.The company has invested heavily in its own intellectual property and although they are not designed to deliver weapons, in the wrong hands, large rockets capable of travelling thousands of kilometres are a security threat and US regulators who have licensed the programme every step of the way are particularly sensitive. Beck is at pains to stress that this year's planned launch is just another step in a long, painstaking programme in addition to hundreds of testbed trials where engines are fired on the ground . "The real prize here is when we start flying commercially. We're building up to commercial flights, not up to this one launch - the things that excite me are when we enable customers to do something very cool," he says. "You can test a lot of things on the ground but there are some things you can't test." The Rocket Lab programme has already encountered delays, one of them caused by an unsuccessful attempt at establishing a launch site on Banks Peninsula, near Christchurch. While the pressure to launch is growing, Beck says the Electron is not going anywhere until it's ready and conditions are right.
We don't think of ourselves as space on a budget, we're almost the opposite of that, we're a premium ride."It comes with some risk and if you truly want to make big disruption in an industry then that's what's required." Rocket Lab aims to be small and nimble in the commercial launch business, which last year was estimated at being worth $9 billion. High frequency Electron launches for less than US$5m apiece compare to others valued at closer to $200m, which come with years-long waiting times. But it's not cut-rate space, says Beck. "We don't think of ourselves as space on a budget, we're almost the opposite of that, we're a premium ride. We take a customer who would normally be ride sharing, or strapped onto the side of a big rocket, to a very dedicated orbit, dedicated time frame." Although he clams up when things get personal, it's hard to stop the ebullient inventor on the subjects he loves: different types of orbit (the Electron goes into a low earth orbit, so it needs to travel at 25 times the speed of sound to avoid falling to earth) and the future of satellites.