What's on your to-do list for 2021? A Moon shot? Helping New Zealand become the first country to send a life-searching probe to Venus?
It could be, if you join the fast-growing Rocket Lab.
The Kiwi-American company is looking for at least another 90 staff - and, no, you don't necessarily need to be a rocket scientist.
The satellite launch operator has positions open that range from engineering to accounting to sales, with the likes of legal, software development and supply chain management roles that need to be filled, too.
The latest hiring spree will take its total complement to around 700 - with two-thirds in New Zealand.
"2021 is going to be another big year for Rocket Lab," communications head Morgan Bailey says.
"We're gearing up for missions roughly every month from Launch Complex 1 [in Mahia], and we'll also launch our first mission from Launch Complex 2 in Virginia.
"This year we'll launch beyond low Earth orbit for the first time, delivering a satellite to the Moon for Nasa."
The 2021 moonshot for Nasa will be part of the space agency's push to return people to the moon by 2024. (In February last year, Rocket Lab won a US$9.95 million [$13m] contract to launch the US space agency's Capstone cubesat, then guide it into lunar orbit via its Photon platform.)
Rocket Lab will be working on an even more ambitious venture, too: Founder and chief executive Peter Beck's plan to send a privately-funded satellite to Venus by 2023 - a robotic astrobiology mission to the planet's upper clouds that will look for traces of microbial life. Beck's passion was sparked when Earth-based scientists discovered traces of phosphine in Venus's atmosphere. Phosphine is usually produced by a biological source. While the Moon and Mars have been well-trafficked, Rocket Lab will beat Nasa and all-comers to the clouds of Venus, if Beck is able to see through his passion project.
Bailey says Rocket Lab will also continue its recovery programme, bringing more rockets back under parachutes as Rocket Labs works towards making its Electron rockets reusable.
"Our new launch pad at LC-1 will also come online, and we're spooling up our Photon satellite business, alongside our spacecraft components division," she adds.
"All of this means we need people. We have more than 50 roles and counting open in New Zealand, and around 40 across our US and Canadian facilities. Some of the key divisions we're recruiting for are software, avionics, manufacturing engineers and test engineers."
The Photon - first deployed last year - has been described as a "satellite bus" that ferries a cubesat into the correct orbit. The Photon will play a support role getting Nasa's Capstone cubesat to the moon next year, after it's launched from Virginia on an Electron.
The companion satellite components business was acquired in March 2020, when Rocket Lab bought Toronto-based Sinclair Interplanetary for an undisclosed sum.
All-up, it means there are now a lot of folk wearing Rocket Lab's trademark black T-shirts.
"Our team is around 600-strong in total at the moment, with more than 400 people based in New Zealand," Bailey says.
Last July saw Beck introduce an internship programme, with the founder telling the Herald he wanted to help a "lost generation" of New Zealanders who have had scant trades-training opportunities. The positions are paid.
"Our internship programme is also going strong," Bailey says today. "We have 13 at the moment across propulsion engineering, manufacturing, legal, software, business intelligence, IT, and special projects - the super fun and innovative R&D stuff."
Rocket Lab will start to recruit for another batch of interns in April, with the newcomers slated to start in November.
The internship programme is close to Beck's heart.
Although the entrepreneur was made an adjunct professor by Auckland University's School of Engineering in 2019, "in recognition of his outstanding contributions to aerospace", he never did a degree.
Instead, after leaving school at 17, Beck took an apprenticeship at Fisher & Paykel Appliances at Mosgiel before his hobby making small rockets led him to found Rocket Lab.
An emphasis on local hiring has helped mitigate the effects of the pandemic, but it is still crimping recruitment efforts.
"Covid certainly puts a dampener on hiring, as it has for many industries," Bailey says.
"But the majority of our NZ-based team are Kiwis and wherever possible we look to hire local talent from within New Zealand.
"However, space is still a young industry in New Zealand and some highly-specialised skills and experience we can only get from overseas. Naturally, it's challenging to get that talent into the country at the moment, but it's a challenge we share with many businesses."
But in some cases, other industries' coronavirus losses have been Rocket Lab's gain - as in the case of a clutch of laid-off Air New Zealand engineers who moved across.
Such industry-hopping is common. When it comes to working with high-tech materials, Beck is as likely to poach someone from Emirates Team NZ as Space X.
"While a small number of roles require incredibly specialised skills from overseas, a huge number of Rocket Lab team members don't come from space backgrounds," Bailey says.
"There can sometimes be a misconception that you need to be a rocket scientist to work here, and it's simply not true. Our people have backgrounds in the Air Force, airlines, boat building, electrical trades, software development, tech start-ups, telcos and much more."
These days, Rocket Lab is as much an American company as a Kiwi one. Its largest factory is in Long Beach, California - where its Rutherford engines are made. Most of its corporate staff are also in the US, as are key shareholders like Lockheed Martin and Khosla Ventures.
But rocket assembly still takes place in Auckland, along with R&D, mission control and other key functions.
And although the second launch pad will shortly go into operation at Nasa's Wallops Island facility on the US east coast, Beck says that's to suit the need of certain US government clients. The majority of launches will continue to take place from Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula - which is indeed being expanded - simply because New Zealand will always enjoy the advantage of relatively empty skies and sea lanes.
In equity terms, there's still local skin in the game, too, with Beck, earlier backers Mark Rocket and Sir Stephen Tindal, and latter-day backer ACC all holding shares in Rocket Lab, which is now valued at somewhere north of US$2 billion.
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
While Rocket Lab is the big dog of the local aerospace industry, dozens of startups are springing up (Martin Jenkins recently counted a whopping 140).
The range from include the Kiwi-Dutch Dawn Aerospace, developing reusable spacecraft that can launch on conventional runways, deploy payloads to space and return within a day to Mark Rocket's more meat-and-potatoes Kea Aerospace, which is developing drones that will fly at high altitude for months at a time.
We now have an NZ Space Agency (sitting within MBIE), and Auckland University recently produced the first student-created satellite launched from NZ (currently lost in space, but it's a start), and MBIE is working on MethaneSAT - the first cooperative satellite project between the US and NZ as countries - which will measure our methane emissions with unprecedented accuracy.
And of course, if Beck has his way, NZ will be first to the clouds of Venus. As long as he can find enough staff ...
Rocket Lab is planning its eighteenth launch - and its first of 2021 - from Launch Complex 1 this Saturday (January 16) between 8.38pm and 8.45pm, weather and other factors allowing.
The mission, dubbed, "Another One Leaves The Crust", was bought out by a single satellite customer: Germany's OHB Group, a technology conglomerate whose services include Earth-observation and reconnaissance.
"The launch is taking place right on sunset, so if we're lucky we might get a beautiful night sky effect known as the twilight phenomenon," a Rocket Lab rep says.
The effect was recently on show with Rocket Lab's December "Owl's Night" launch, when it was caught by photographers as far away as Southland.
Spotted odd cloud from Wellington south coast last night, so quickly timelapsed it. Turns out it was Rocket Lab’s “The Owl’s Night Begins” mission, delivering satellites for a Japanese earth-imaging company. pic.twitter.com/zeqb8kECM8— Seán Gillespie (@SeanDG) December 15, 2020
So how does it work?
" Even though it's close to dark outside from the spectator's point of view, the sun illuminates the rocket's exhaust plume as it ascends to space," the Rocket Lab rep says.
"As the exhaust plume condenses in the cold as the rocket gains altitude, the plume appears to change colours – putting on a dazzling display of blue and white lights in the sky. Eager photographers will want to have a camera at the ready on launch day, as the launch could be seen from as far south as Invercargill."