Sophie Ryan

Sophie Ryan is an APNZ reporter.

NZ to get its own space programme by 2015

New Zealand will have its own space programme by 2015.

Rocket Lab is building a world-first launch vehicle in Auckland to make it cheaper to send satellites in to orbit.

The rocket is made of carbon-composite and will cost less than US$5 million (NZ$5.84 million).

The average price to send a satellite to space is US$133 million.

Rocket Lab chief executive and founder Peter Beck, a Kiwi, announced the development and revealed a model of the rocket today.

The company has been backed by a top tier Silicon Valley company Khosla Ventures, Stephen Tindall's K1W1 and received a NZ$25 million grant from the Government.

Mr Beck said the company had 30 commitments from companies around the world looking for cheaper ways to send satellites to space.

"The obvious ones... are earth imaging and weather satellites."

He was looking at rural locations for a launch pad.

"New Zealand is optimally placed for doing this," he said.

"We're a small island nation in the middle of nowhere, we don't have heavy air traffic and we don't have heavy marine and shipping that means we can launch to space very frequently and very rapidly."

Mr Beck said the company would create a billion-dollar industry.

The engines within the rocket have been named "Rutherford", Mr Beck said, after New Zealand scientist Ernest Rutherford.

"Because they're not big, they're really, really smart."

Mr Beck said he was "reversing the brain-drain" and was advertising for 30 positions for rocket scientists.

"We're sucking in rocket scientists left, right and centre."

On a trip to the United States in 2007 he realised the big aerospace companies weren't meeting demand.

He came up with the name Rocket Lab and began his mission to make space more accessible.

Two years later the company was the first private company to reach space in the southern hemisphere.

He said he had always been interested in space as a child, and had a message for Kiwi 5-year-olds who want to reach space: "Study your maths, study your physics, and come work for us."

About "Electron" the rocket:
* 18m in length
* 1m in diameter
* Weighs more than 10 tonnes
* Lift off mass 10,500kg
* Liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants
* Top speed of 27,500 km/h
* Payload of 110kg

- APNZ

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