Space is almost open for business, following the opening of the world's first private orbital launch site this week in northern Hawke's Bay.

This has been the mission for Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck since he founded the company in 2007. While the wait is not yet over, the completion of the Mahia Peninsula launch complex brings the company one step closer to removing commercial barriers from space.

Last Tuesday, a crowd of local officials, landowners of the Onenui Station site, contractors, and Rocket Lab team members braved wild weather 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.

Not only will launches from the site make space more accessible, the completion of the world's first private orbital launch site is opening new doors for Wairoa, and New Zealand.
At Tuesday's opening, Wairoa mayor Craig Little said having the complex in the district meant, "Wairoa is now on the national map, and international map."

Mr Joyce said the site placed New Zealand at the forefront of the space industry.

Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck said completing the complex was a significant milestone in the lead-up to the first test flight of the Electron vehicle.

"Launch Complex 1 presents a considerable opportunity to change the frequency of access to space."

Rocket Lab had searched the world for a launch site, including throughout New Zealand.

After it was announced last year that the company would not be basing their launch site near Christchurch as initially planned, the Wairoa District Council had lobbied for it.

When the district was believed to have been one of three contenders for it, the council processed the required resource consent in just seven days, and Onenui Station was chosen.

In November the site was blessed, and a lease agreement signed between Rocket Lab and the landowners - Tawapata South Maori Incorporation.

The next month, construction began with help from local contractors and businesses.

At Tuesday's opening, George Mackey from the incorporation said it had been a steady, but fast-tracked journey since ground was broken on the site.

"We've always talked about diversifying but we were probably thinking more bees and honey, rather than rockets," he said.

Now completed, Mr Mackey said the success of Rocket Lab would also provide benefit to them, and their 1800 shareholders.

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

Currently, the company is working through the qualification of the first stage of the Electron rocket. Once qualification and launch licensing are complete, the test flight phase - where the rocket will blast from the Mahia Peninsula site - will begin.

It is hoped that before the end of the year, the Electron launch vehicle will have blasted off from the site multiple times, so commercial flights can begin early to mid-2017.

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

Because of the remote location of the Mahia Peninsula site, Electron will be able to carry their satellites to a wider range of azimuths than anywhere else in the world.

Rocket Lab was about making space more accessible, Mr Beck said on Tuesday, as at the moment space was reserved for the elite few.

Through the satellites Rocket Lab could launch into space 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.

On any given mission, Electron could blast from Hawke's Bay to space carrying satellites featuring a range of services - from improved weather reporting, internet from space, natural disaster prediction, and up-to-date maritime data.

The company's 'Electron Program' was founded on the belief that small payloads require dedicated small launch vehicles and flexibility not currently offered by traditional rocket systems.

Electron has made accessing outer space relatively cheap, costing about US$6 million ($8.4 million) for the 17m tall rocket, a fraction of the average cost of around US$150m ($209m).

It has been designed to slash the cost of launches through the use of carbon fibre, new battery technology and 3D printing technology to cut weight and costs.

A Rocket Lab spokeswoman said flights for 2017 and 2018 were already largely booked. They hope to launch flights once a month.

It is thought that when these flights begin, they will draw tourists to the area - providing an economic boost to the region.

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.

"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.

At the site's opening, 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.

The benefits of Rocket Lab's plan to open space for business reach far beyond the surrounding areas of Wairoa, and Gisborne.

Mr Joyce said the Rocket Lab site was a step forward, and 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.