The opening of the world's first private orbital launch site in Northern Hawke's Bay today placed New Zealand at the forefront of the space industry.

This morning around 240 people witnessed the Rocket Lab launch complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula being officially opened by Economic Development Minister Stephen Joyce.

Among the crowd were local officials, Labour leader Andrew Little, landowners of the Onenui Station site, and Rocket Lab team members.

Construction began on the site in December. The company hope their Electron launch vehicle will blast off from the site before the end of the year for test flights, with commercial flights beginning early to mid 2017.

Advertisement

Located at the tip of the peninsula, a range control are has been developed, overlooking the launch complex where a hangar will house the launch vehicle before it travels down a runway to a 15m tall launch system, which will pick up the vehicle and tilt it vertically for launch.

Gathered in the hangar, Mr Joyce said it was the innovation and perseverance of Rocket Lab chief executive and founder Peter Beck and his team which had made this day possible.

In a speech, Mr Beck told the crowd how after searching the world for a launch site Onenui Station was chosen last year partly due to its remote location, meaning from the site "more satellites could be launched, and more often than anywhere in the world".

It also meant the launch range from the peninsula was one of the largest angles, from where New Zealand would become the eleventh nation in the history of the planet to ever put a satellite into orbit - with Rocket Lab only the second company to ever do so.

Rocket lab was about making space accessible, Mr Beck said, as at the moment space was reserved for the elite few.

Through the satellites Rocket Lab could launch into space on their multi-million dollar rocket Electron, the lives of people from Hawke's Bay residents, to those in developing nations, could be improved.

"Rocket Lab's not about building a rocket, it's about enabling an entire revolution in space," he said.

Wairoa District Council was also acknowledged for their role in the site's development, with Mr Joyce saying "I think they hold the record for the fastest consenting on a rocket range in the history of the world".

Wairoa mayor Craig Little said it was a great to see how everything had come together at the complex.

"It's just huge for Wairoa," he said, "Wairoa is now on the national map, and international map."

Local contractors and businesses had already benefited from the activity on Mahia Peninsula. Now the site had opened there would be more spinoffs for the district.

"It's just going to get better and better," he said. "I think when the launches become more frequent, obviously more things are going to happen, so we've just got to do one step at a time."

Mr Little said he believed the exclusion zones while Rocket Lab were in trial phase would be around 8km out, and this would later "shrink in".

Although he could imagine people travelling to the site in the hope of viewing a launch, he said it was "all trial and error", in terms of how far away they would need to be.
As today was only milestone in things to come for the company, and for Wairoa, the same is being said for the country.

Mr Joyce said the Rocket Lab site was a step forward, and placed New Zealand at the forefront of the space industry.

The company would be a catalyst for other space-related activity in New Zealand. Attracting international players would be easier now as a world leading regulatory regime was being established.

This would be managed by a new NZ Space Agency located within the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment.

The agency had been supporting Rocket Lab in navigating the regulatory environment, and putting in place foundations for an internationally credible, competitive, and well-connected New Zealand based space industry.

They were currently in the process of signing a number of treaties needed for New Zealand "to be a space nation".

The agency would be capitalising on Rocket Lab launches to help build the country's capacity and expertise in all manner of space related activities, and will support the strategic opportunities that were likely to flow from it.

The new Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Bill was recently introduced to the House, and it is intended to become law by mid-2017.

This would enable the development of a space industry in New Zealand, and provide for the management of certain high altitude activities which took place from the country, and enabled it to manage risks and implement certain international obligations relating to space activities and space technology.