NASA deal gives Rocket Lab 'world domination'

he deal with NASA will allow the company to use facilities in the US like Cape Canaveral (AAP)
he deal with NASA will allow the company to use facilities in the US like Cape Canaveral (AAP)

Rocket Lab's new deal with NASA could see its proposed low-cost launches skyrocket in price.

The Auckland-based company hopes to bring the cost of putting a payload in orbit down from $130 million to $5 million, with its groundbreaking Electron rocket.

But that assumes launches take place in New Zealand. The deal with NASA will allow the company to use facilities in the US like Cape Canaveral, from which the first US satellites and manned spacecraft launched back in the 1950s and '60s.

Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck says the company has been working with NASA for much of its short existence, but the new deal "really solidifies the relationship".

"The agreement certainly shows NASA's interest in the programme," he said on the Paul Henry programme this morning.

Using launch facilities in the US will allow the company to put bigger payloads into orbit.

"New Zealand's just too far away from the equator to do equatorial kind of launches. We can just cover more of the planet by having more launch sites across the world."

New Zealand will remain the company's primary launch site, provided it can secure a location. Currently it's focused on Birdlings Flat, near Christchurch.

"We're still going through the resource consent process," he says. "It's looking good, but it is quite a process you've got to go through."

The US-based launches are likely to cost Rocket Lab more than those from New Zealand, but Mr Beck says they'll also be able to charge more.

"It'll be difficult to maintain those sort of price levels, but they're a higher value of customers that want to go to those equatorial [orbits]," he says.

"Now we can cover the whole planet – world domination."

The catch is, even with a NASA deal and a more than two years of flights already booked, Rocket Lab has yet to put a rocket into orbit.

"We've just got to build the rocket; it's all we've got to do," says Mr Beck.

"Usually it takes a nation, a government, at least two decades to put something in orbit. New Zealand will be the 11th nation to put something in orbit when we achieve it. The rest of the nations who have done that are pretty much superpowers, the vast majority. So it's a fricken' hard thing to do. It's really, really hard.

"We've really only been running this particular launch vehicle programme for two years, which is a ridiculously short period of time in the context of what we're trying to achieve."

Which is why he's keeping his lofty goals in check.

"I've got no aspirations to go to Mars."

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