The East Cape: NZ's door to the final frontier

An Electron rocket (supplied)
An Electron rocket (supplied)

Nearly 10 years after the company was founded, New Zealand startup Rocket Lab says it is ready to test its low-cost Electron rockets.

Test flights will launch from the Mahia Peninsula later this year, with the first commercial launches scheduled for 2016.

"We've been very successful in signing customers, so we're about two years fully loaded," says founder Peter Beck.

On Tuesday the Government announced new regulations for the burgeoning space industry, which Mr Beck says effectively puts New Zealand with the big boys.

"What we've seen is the New Zealand Government create a space agency. If you look around the world, that doesn't happen very often these days. Generally it's the superpowers that have space agencies. It's really significant for the country."

Without regulation Rocket Lab would still operate, but would just follow US and international law instead. The Government developed the guidelines with help from the US.

Rocket Lab looked at various launch locations around New Zealand and the world, but settled on the Mahia Peninsula, between Gisborne and Napier.

"The Mahia Peninsula is just fantastic. We in fact have the widest range of launch azimuth (angles) out of any launch site in the entire world, so we can go to more places out of that launch site than any other launch site in the world," says Mr Beck.

"There could be better ones, but as far as actually having a small island nation in the middle of nowhere, which is kind of important when you're launching rockets, it's ideal. Honestly, we looked all around the planet."

With the international space industry worth about $330 billion annually, the Government's hoping the new regulations will inspire more investment locally.

"There's also not just Rocket Lab, there's a couple of other potential organisations, two regional research institutes that are both focused on space technology," Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said on Tuesday.