Cool! New Zealand joins the orbital rocket club – for real

Private-enterprise orbital ventures aren’t just an American dream. Last week, New Zealand’s own Rocket Lab unveiled their commercial booster.

Voyager 1 launching, 5 September 1977. Photo: NASA, public domain.
OK, this is a generic rocket pic, but you get the picture. Voyager 1 launching, 5 September 1977, by Titan. Photo: NASA, public domain.

It’s called Electron. Very cool. It’s not a big rocket – 10 tonnes of carbon composite and 18 metres long. But it’ll put 110kg into a 500 km orbit, with the help of locally developed Rutherford LOX/ kerosine engines. And in this day of micro-sats, that’s plenty for a whole host of commercial uses. The company states that it already has 30 launches pre-booked.

Space boosters? We are a country of 4 million people previously known for our large numbers of nervous sheep. I’m put in mind of the ‘mouse that roared’.

But of course New Zealand long ago ditched the ‘No. 8 wire’ notion. We have world-class scientific minds (Lord Rutherford led the way – and don’t forget JPL head Sir William Pickering, or Sir Ian Axford, a friend of my family who ran the Max Planck Institute). It’s over half a century since we designed and built the world’s first jet-boat. Today we design and build world-leading quake-proofing systems. We build yachts that ‘fly’ with underwater carbon fibre wings, literally, at double wind speed. We have the world’s leading SFX studio, right here where I live in Wellington.

I was wondering. What could Kiwis put into orbit? Here’s my list.

1. Justin Bieber. Of course, a 110kg payload doesn’t leave much room for niceties like a pressure suit, life support or space capsule, parachutes, heat shield etc, I suspect we’re looking here at just Mr Bieber and a one-way trip to orbit. But hey…
2. Can’t actually think of a No. 2.
3. A radio endlessly suggesting to the world that it’s best to buy the books variously written by me, and by my blogging writer friends.

I’m leaning towards (3), but given (1), it’s…well, pretty evenly balanced…

What’s your list?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

9 thoughts on “Cool! New Zealand joins the orbital rocket club – for real

  1. This is really quite exciting stuff, but who regulates and allocates flight paths and frequencies for all these satellites. A lot of nations besides the established rocket launching crowd are getting into this game and although I know space is big, the area available to orbit satellites around earth must be getting crowded.


    1. I don’t know what arrangements are being made for the customers. I presume there’s a co-ordinating body? There are already enough bits floating loose up there to be hazardous and the possibility of the Kessler Effect can’t be ignored.


  2. Outstanding! It is good to see NZ getting a booster up and running. I’m sometimes amazed that there is any room left in orbit. 🙂 The only drawback I see to #1 is that it would give him more undeserved notoriety that he already has. Oh, and I would not want any potential space visitors to find him first and figure that the rest of us are like him.


    1. As I understand it this project has been quietly ticking along for a while. Yes, the thought of aliens meeting Mr Bieber at the moment of First Contact is a supremely scary one.


Comments are closed.