From a remote site in Northern Hawke's Bay, the place of New Zealand in the space industry changed yesterday with the opening of the world's first private orbital launch site.

Around 240 people braved wild weather on Mahia Peninsula yesterday to witness Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce officially open the Rocket Lab launch complex 1.

Over the past nine months the Onenui Station site has been transformed - located at the tip of the peninsula, a range control area has been developed, overlooking the launch complex.

In the near future, the Electron rocket will be prepared for launch inside a vehicle processing hangar, before travelling down a runway to a 15m tall launch system, which will tilt forward to lift the rocket into launch position.


The company hope their Electron launch vehicle will blast off from the site before the end of the year for test flights, with commercial flights beginning early to mid-2017.

Yesterday however, the hangar housed a crowd of local officials, Labour leader Andrew Little, landowners of the Onenui Station site, and Rocket Lab team members, there to celebrate the milestone.

Mr Joyce said it was the innovation and perseverance of Rocket Lab chief executive and founder Peter Beck and his team which had made this day possible.

In a speech, Mr Beck told the crowd how after searching the world for a launch site, Onenui Station was chosen last year - from where a number of world firsts would be achieved.

The site's remote location meant "more satellites could be launched, and more often than anywhere in the world".

It also meant the launch range from the peninsula was one of the largest angles, from where New Zealand would become the 11th nation to ever put a satellite into orbit - with Rocket Lab only the second company to ever do so.

Rocket lab was about making space accessible, Mr Beck said, as at the moment space was reserved for the elite few.

Through the satellites Rocket Lab could launch into space on their multi-million dollar rocket Electron, the lives of people from Hawke's Bay residents, to those in developing nations, could be improved.


"Rocket Lab's not about building a rocket, it's about enabling an entire revolution in space," he said.

Customers signed to fly on Electron include Nasa, Planet, Spire and Moon Express.

The vehicle will carry satellites featuring a range of services - from improved weather reporting, internet from space, natural disaster prediction, and up-to date maritime data.

Currently, the company is working through the qualification of the first stage of the Electron rocket and hopes to begin the test flight phase once qualification and launch licensing are complete.

Yesterday, Wairoa District Council was acknowledged for its role in the site's development, with Mr Joyce saying "I think they hold the record for the fastest consenting on a rocket range in the history of the world".

Wairoa mayor Craig Little said the facility was huge for the area, "Wairoa is now on the national map, and international map."

He said it was great to see how everything had come together at the complex, "everyone's excited; you can hear the buzz in the crowd".

As Rocket Lab had tried to employ local contractors wherever possible, Wairoa businesses had already benefited from the activity on Mahia Peninsula.

Although Mr Beck said local employees had had to come to the site in wet weather, they had done so with immense pride.

"You won't fault any of the workmanship...we're really, really pleased," he said.

One of these contractors had been Quality Roading and Services from Wairoa, who in only nine days poured the concrete foundation of the hangar, and launch pad, as well as improving 3.5km of roading to the site.

Chief executive officer Mark Browne said the one-off job meant they had around 10 to 15 staff working at the site permanently for around six months.

The contract with Rocket Lab had benefited the company immensely, he said.

"It's a one off job and within that year made a substantive difference to QRS and hopefully it will into the future as well," he said, adding they were just one of several businesses benefiting from Rocket Lab's presence in Northern Hawke's Bay.

"The potential here is astronomical, I don't think we realised the actual potential we are going to get as a country and for the East Coast," he said.

Mr Little said now the site had opened there would be more spinoffs for the district.

"It's just going to get better and better," he said. "I think when the launches become more frequent, obviously more things are going to happen, so we've just got to do one step at a time."

George Mackey from Tawapata South Maori Incorporation owners of Onenui Station said the success of Rocket Lab would also provide benefit to them, and their shareholders.

The opening yesterday was "another step in the journey", he said, since ground had been broken on the site last year.

"It's been quite a steady but fast tracked journey it's been very exciting," he said. "We've always talked about diversifying but we were probably thinking more bees and honey, rather than rockets.

"But we'll take it, and it's gone really well to date."

Yesterday Mr Joyce acknowledged the opportunities the site would bring in regard to tourism, if Mr Beck was able to launch rockets at the rate he hoped.

Local agencies had been working with MBIE to see what could be done to help facilitate that vision.

Mr Little said, "this is the only rocket launching facility this side of the world, so if you want to go and see a rocket launch, where are you going to come?"

Hawke's Bay Tourism general manager Annie Dundas said the spin-off for tourism could be massive when rockets began launching from the site.

"There is a genuine interest in space tourism around the world and the opportunity to see rockets launch from one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand provides a massive opportunity for Wairoa and the wider Hawke's Bay region as well as Gisborne," she said.

"We need to assess the opportunity carefully but there is no doubt there will be interest from Kiwis and overseas visitors."

Mr Little said that although he could imagine people travelling to the site in the hope of viewing a launch, it was "all trial and error", in terms of how far away they would need to be.

He believed there would be an exclusion zone while Rocket Lab were in the trial phase, which would be around 8km - however he thought this would shrink when commercial flights began.

As today was only milestone in things to come for the company, and for Wairoa, the same is being said for the country.

Mr Joyce said the Rocket Lab site was a step forward, placing New Zealand at the forefront of the space industry.

The company would be a catalyst for other space-related activity in New Zealand. Attracting international players would be easier now as a world leading regulatory regime was being established.

This would be managed by a new NZ Space Agency located within the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment.

The agency had been supporting Rocket Lab in navigating the regulatory environment, and putting in place foundations for an internationally credible, competitive, and well-connected New Zealand based space industry.

They were currently in the process of signing a number of treaties needed for New Zealand "to be a space nation".

The agency would be capitalising on Rocket Lab launches to help build the country's capacity and expertise in all manner of space related activities, and will support the strategic opportunities that were likely to flow from it.

The new Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Bill was recently introduced to the House, and it is intended to become law by mid-2017.

This would enable the development of a space industry in New Zealand, and provide for the management of certain high altitude activities which took place from the country, and enabled it to manage risks and implement certain international obligations relating to space activities and space technology.