The final countdown is on for New Zealand's first attempt at firing a rocket into space - with an historic launch potentially just a day away.

Excitement is growing on the tiny East Coast peninsula of Mahia as a quiet country settlement of less than 800 people suddenly finds itself front and centre of a nation's hopes and global anticipation.

Tomorrow is the opening of a May 22-June 3 launch window for Rocket Lab's bold mission to try and fire its Electron craft into orbit - with weather and last-minute technical hitches crucial players in a highly complex decision of when, and if, the launch goes ahead.

"If we get to orbit on the first flight, we will have done something most countries have never achieved," Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder, told the Herald on Sunday.


"The vehicle will be in a state of readiness for the next week-and-a-half. If we get a favourable met report the day before, we'll prepare to launch."

That means the green-light decision could be made today, as MetService staff work with Beck's crew to try and figure out the conditions - an extremely complex equation that involves radar and weather balloons to measure wind velocities and air pressures at both ground and high level.

"Things are looking much more settled for Sunday and the first part of next week, it's looking pretty good in that sense," John Law of MetService said.

"The winds should be pretty light particularly Sunday, Monday and towards Tuesday as well. It's a little more changeable in the second half of that week."

Peter Beck chief executive of Rocket Lab. Photo / Michael Craig
Peter Beck chief executive of Rocket Lab. Photo / Michael Craig

What Beck is trying to achieve is immense, but the impressive Kiwi scientist is refusing to get emotional in the heat of the moment - on the eve of the first of three planned test flights and a shot at history.

"Maybe if it's a great launch that might happen, but right now there's a big team just making sure we do a good job on the first flight," he said. "Obviously it's an exciting time, but we are just moving into a flight test programme out of a ground test programme."

Beck said the notoriously changeable nature of Kiwi weather adds extra complexity.

"New Zealand's weather is unpredictable enough that there's no point in really targeting a day. We're just hoping during the window there's a good probability of getting the conditions we need to launch," he said.


"If we don't, we'll close the window and open another one at a later date and go again."

Beck said a successful "dress rehearsal" was executed on Tuesday - where the entire launch was conducted right up to the point of ignition, including the closure of airspace and fuelling the rocket.

"Right now, everything is looking good. But I must stress, a launch vehicle is an incredibly complicated machine. There's over 20,000 sensors that we're monitoring and if any of those sensors turn red then we won't fly," he said.

The project has had Mahia locals excited for months. Owners of The Beach Cafe, Sandy Woodham and daughter Karla Khan, said the rocket experts have become regular customers and brought a welcome boost to the region.

Woodham said another cafe, which has re-branded itself to The Rocket Cafe since the space project came to town, has also been helping fuel the team - driving lunches 45 minutes from town to the launch site at the tip of the peninsula.

"Mahia has needed it, it's been absolutely fantastic. I do support the Rocket Lab boys, they eat here three nights a week with their steaks and lamb shanks, we spoil them a bit," Woodham said.


"They've certainly brought in a lot more revenue for a lot of people here."

But as the clock counts down, Woodham said the locals are as nervous as the scientists.

"It's quite incredible, believing all of a sudden that this vehicle is about to go up in space, it's a little bit overwhelming," she said. "Everyone's just got their fingers crossed that all goes well for them."