Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Rocket Lab launch site go for lift-off

Rocket Lab has opened its launch site at Mahia - the world's first private orbital launch complex.

The Auckland-based company plans to launch its first test rocket from the site at the tip of the Mahia Peninsula before the end of the year.

The site - in an area with little air traffic - will enable high frequency launches once the Rocket Lab programme gets to a commercial stage.

It will be the primary launch site for the 17m tall Electron rocket although lift off from sites overseas are possible.

Other launch pads overseas for rockets going into orbit are government-owned.

"Completing Launch Complex 1 is a significant milestone in the build-up to the first test flight of the Electron vehicle," said Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck.

The facility was opened today by Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce.

The opening was also attended by 180 locals, officials, Rocket Lab staff and members of the newly formed New Zealand Space agency within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Customers signed to fly on Electron include NASA, Planet, Spire and Moon Express. With a dedicated launch priced at $6.7 million to $7.6 million, Electron will take small satellites into low earth orbit at a fraction of the cost of overseas competitors.

Beck said it was ''wonderful'' to celebrate the completion of the site with those who had welcomed the company into the community.

Wherever possible, Rocket Lab hired local contractors to develop the site. Facilities at Launch Complex 1 include a vehicle processing hangar where the rocket will be fuelled up with liquid oxygen and kerosene and prepared for launch.

At the other end of the site is a 50 -tonne platform standing over 15meters tall.
The platform will tilt forward to lift the rocket to a vertical position prior to launch.

There has been some concerns raised locally and by Greenpeace about the environmental impact of the programme, specifically parts or the rocket falling to earth.

The carbon fibre vehicle weighs over 12 tonnes and is fitted with a kill switch that can be activated by specialist ground crew at the site if it strays off course. Mission control will be at Rocket Lab's base near Auckland Airport.

The company is not putting a date on the first launch, one of three planned test flights before it carries any satellites.

It has warned sightseers that due to the nature of testing, there is a likelihood of 'scrubbed' launches.

Completing Launch Complex 1 is a significant milestone in the build-up to the first test flight of the Electron vehicle.

''Rocket Lab recommends viewing a launch in the commercial phase rather than the test phase - we value your time, and wouldn't want to keep you waiting.''

There was a possibility of a space tourism industry, where facilities are put in for rocket buffs who travel long distances to watch launches.

Rocket Lab says Wairoa District Council is evaluating the location of viewing platforms to be installed for the commercial phase of launches.

- NZ Herald

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