New Zealand firm Rocket Lab plans to launch its battery powered rockets from Birdlings Flat in Canterbury.

The company has lodged resource consent applications to build a launch pad - about half the size of a tennis court - and hopes to launch a test vehicle late this year.

The company's chief executive, Peter Beck said the area met all the firm's requirements; a sparse population, a launch path over the ocean and proximity to a city where the 18m tall Electron Rockets can be built.

And there have been rockets launched before from Birdlings Flat about 44km southeast of Christchurch.


In 1963 an imported rocket was launched to a height of about 75km to conduct upper atmospheric research in a joint venture between Canterbury University's physics department and the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

That spent about 2 1/2 minutes airborne and landed in the sea and the university continues to monitor space from the area.

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Beck said his firm was going through the process of complying with all environmental requirements and consulting affected parties before building what he said was a low impact operation.

''We're not moving in with bulldozers and building Cape Canaveral out there,'' he said.
Rocket Lab aims to launch satellites into space at a fraction of the cost of existing aerospace operations by using new technology and processes.

Peter Beck, Rocket Lab chief executive Photo / Geoff Dale
Peter Beck, Rocket Lab chief executive Photo / Geoff Dale

Earlier this year it announced it would do away with expensive and complex gas generators and instead use small high-performance electric motors and lithium polymer batteries to drive its turbo pumps. The engine within the carbon fibre launch vehicle will also incorporate parts made by 3D printers to cut costs and speed up the manufacturing process.

The Electron would launch satellites for about $7.3 million, less than a tenth of the cost of other companies.

Beck said the firm was looking for suitable space in Christchurch to assemble the launch vehicles and this would provide jobs in the city. It had conducted a lengthy search throughout country looking for a suitable launch site.


An official announcement on the site is due tomorrow.

See where Birdlings Flat is here: