NZ rocket launches into space

Peter Beck (left) and Mark Rocket. File photo / Doug Sherring
Peter Beck (left) and Mark Rocket. File photo / Doug Sherring

New Zealand's first space rocket has launched this afternoon.

The Atea-1 took off from its launch site at Great Mercury Island just before 3pm, after technical problems delayed this morning's planned launch.

The launch company, Rocket Lab Ltd, started up three years ago with the aim to develop a series of Atea rockets that would make space more accessible, company director Mark Rocket said last week.

"This is the first step in a long journey," he said.

The 6-metre-long craft should reach speeds of up to Mach 5, flying 120km into the air, before splashing down in the sea, where it will be picked up.

It is the first time in the southern hemisphere a privately owned company has launched a rocket to space.

Atea is the Maori word for space as the team wanted an indigenous name for the rockets.

The first rocket Atea-1 has been named Manu Karere by the local Thames iwi, which means Bird Messenger.

A technical hitch earlier this morning delayed the original launch time of 7.10am by eight hours.

At 7.42am, 32 minutes after it was due to lift off, the rocket still sat on its launch pad with white vapour pouring from it.

There was understood to have been a problem with nitrous oxide causing a coupling to freeze.

The cost of the project has been met mainly through private investment from Rocket Lab, although it has received some funding from the Government and a number of agencies around New Zealand.

Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck said Atea-1 had a 2kg payload capacity.

The project would give the global scientific community the first practical alternative to conventional rockets at significantly lower cost, as it could carry miniature scientific equipment.

- NZPA, NZ HERALD STAFF

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