Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Rocket Lab-led space industry could be as big as kiwifruit, says minister

New Zealand's space industry could earn as much as the wine industry or the kiwifruit sector if it gets off the ground, says Economic Development Minister Simon Bridges.

Rocket Lab is poised for a giant leap next week with the start of a window for test launches, building up to a commercial campaign to deliver small satellites to low earth orbit.

While the Rocket Lab programme would be high risk in its early stages, Bridges said if successful, it would represent a major technological milestone for the country.

"These are an incredibly exciting set of opportunities. This has the ability to be another kiwifruit sector or wine industry but in a much quicker time frame than those more traditional sectors take to grow."

Last year the kiwifruit sector was worth close to $2billion and the wine industry $1.6b.

Bridges said the country needed to aspire to be seen as supporting advanced technology.

Rocket Lab had a high profile not only in New Zealand but around the world and it had the potential to change the perception of this country.

"So much of the world sees us as pretty scenery and farming - we're definitely those things and we should be proud but we're increasingly a country of smart entrepreneurs and innovators and this has the potential to advertise what is happening in our economy to the world."

Rocket Lab says it is confident of a successful test in a 10-day window from Monday but has been at pains to stress it is just the start of a launch programme.

It is not livestreaming the launch as is common overseas and has restricted access to the pad at the tip of the Mahia Peninsula.

It wants to build up to a commercial operation of high-frequency launches at a much lower price than companies and state agencies overseas.

Bridges said there were "high risks of failure" around the first launch.

"But I think what is for sure is that [it] will go on to launch successfully commercially over a period of time and that will put us as one of a handful of countries that have been into space, which is remarkable at the bottom of the world."

The New Zealand tech sector was worth about $16b a year and a space industry would open up economic opportunities, including materials development such as carbon composites, which the country was already leveraging off for yachting, and weather research.

There was also potential for space tourism.

Wairoa District Council has had support from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment to develop a viewing area at Nuhaka, about 20km from the launch site.

"We are a very proud district and securing Rocket Lab has certainly secured our future as a tourism destination, it has put us on the international map and gives our community that point of difference," said Mayor Craig Little.

The coverage the town had got was ''alot more exciting that what was usually written about Wairoa.''

Last year the United States-based Space Foundation found the space economy was worth close to $400b a year.

Rocket Lab has received about $25 million in government funding during the past decade but is mainly funded by venture capitalists in the US and international aerospace companies.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 28 May 2017 20:23:57 Processing Time: 27ms