Two rogue boaties - and finally the weather - stymied the lift-off of Rocket Lab's 12 tonne Electron test launch vehicle at Mahia Peninsula yesterday.
Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck last night said that while the aborted launch was "part of the business", he understood police were making inquiries into the identity of the boaties.
Had the craft not been in the waters off the peninsula, "without a doubt we would have launched. We were at T minus 56 seconds, it had gained control and the internal countdown had begun."
The nail-biting four hour window with which the company had the opportunity to try and launch was its latest attempt after an unsuccessful bid in December
At least 10,000 people yesterday watched the live stream on YouTube from 2.30pm, but two boaties who neared the Peninsula about 4.30pm got the best view of all, albeit briefly, after being rushed out of the exclusion zone by Rocket Lab officials who were watching from the air and sea.
Beck believed one boatie was pursued while contact was made with another. He understood police were making inquiries.
Patrollers detected the vessels with just a few seconds left on the countdown, Beck said. "We couldn't identify them quickly enough to detect if they were going to be a risk so we called an abort. Public safety is our number one priority. It took some time to clear the area, by which time the launch opportunity had been lost".
Boaties had had a "tremendous amount of warning" including signs posted at boat ramps, regular marine broadcast alerts and advertisements in the paper, he said. "It was pretty widely known. You couldn't have launched your boat and not known there was a rocket launch."
The advice to watch from home rather than in person to avoid long waits was warranted, after the pin was pulled shortly before 6pm after hours of attempts, with mission control citing the alien vessels and adverse weather conditions as problematic.
Another launch attempt is scheduled from 2.30pm today. Beck remained philosophical: "This is just the industry we work in, and we will go away...and try again."
Rocket Lab's first attempt in May saw the rocket reach space at speeds of up to 27,000km/h, but it didn't reach orbit after range safety officials killed the flight because of communication issues. An attempt in December was thwarted by weather.