Where innovation meets the cosmos
There was once a time when a New Zealand company with ambitions to conquer space was regarded as far-fetched as instructing software to write poetry.
The sceptics clearly hadn’t come across Peter Beck – Rocket Lab’s tenacious CEO – who says he has always been excited by anything that can positively impact people on a global scale.
Recognising that space infrastructure did just that, Beck set out to create a company with the potential to revolutionise how we explore and use space.
“Building infrastructure in orbit has a significant impact on our everyday lives,” explains Beck. “Whether it’s communications, GPS, or earth observations and weather satellites, these are the kinds of things that affect our daily lives without us even realising it.”
Initially aspiring to work for established organisations like NASA, Beck embarked on a rocket pilgrimage to the United States in 2006. However, he soon realised the only way to achieve his goals was to start his own company, leading to the genesis of Rocket Lab.
The doubters and nay-sayers soon appeared. Rocket Lab’s team persevered, proving its worth through groundbreaking early projects on international collaborations. The launch of its Ātea-1 sounding rocket from Great Mercury Island in 2009 marked the first time a private rocket reached space from the Southern Hemisphere. As the company’s credibility grew, so did its opportunities to raise capital and attract investors who believed in its vision.
In 2013, Rocket Lab made a pivotal move to Silicon Valley to raise capital for its Electron project. This marked a turning point for the company. With the backing of Khosla Ventures – one of Silicon Valley’s largest tier-one venture capital firms, and its due diligence team which included members from the likes of the US Air Force and NASA – Rocket Lab’s endeavours became increasingly tangible. “It was no longer a garage project. This was a real thing with real money and real credibility,” says Beck.
The potential couldn’t be denied. Rocket Lab’s position was solidifying as a rising star in the space industry.
Through grant funding from Callaghan Innovation, Rocket Lab was able to invest in its infrastructure, including extending the runway at its Mahia launch facility. It was also able to expand its research and development capabilities, specifically during the critical development phase of the Electron launch vehicle.
Go after the really big ideas and have the biggest impact you possibly can."
This in turn led to further successful rounds of funding that enabled the company to keep building and growing.
Beck emphasises the significance of government investment: “When the government invests time, money and regulation in the space industry, remarkable things can happen.” Rocket Lab’s success not only propels the company forward, but has also contributed to the growth of the space industry in Aotearoa New Zealand as a whole – an industry that is now nearly as big as the wine sector, and generating approximately $1.7 billion for the country’s economy.
Despite its achievements, Rocket Lab remains focused on the future. “The biggest thing to be done in space is yet to be done,” says Beck. “While GPS technology has become integral to our lives, countless other ideas and projects hold the potential for even greater impact.” Examples such as direct-to-mobile communications from space, like those Rocket Lab worked on for Global Star and MDA, have already saved numerous lives.
Looking ahead, Rocket Lab is actively developing its much larger Neutron rocket, while engaging in complex spacecraft projects for NASA, including Mars orbiters. Beck also shares an exciting endeavour involving in-orbit pharmaceutical growth, where Rocket Lab’s spacecraft enables the cultivation of pharmaceutical proteins in zero gravity, opening up new possibilities for drug development.
Aspiring entrepreneurs can learn valuable lessons from Rocket Lab’s journey. Beck advises them to “go after the really big ideas and have the biggest impact you possibly can”. It is this mindset that has propelled Rocket Lab to its current position as a driving force in the space industry, inspiring other startups to dream bigger and reach for the stars.
At a glance
- Founded in 2006
- Founded by CEO Peter Beck
- Based in California
- An end-to-end space company revolutionising exploration and use of space. Focused on building both rockets and spacecraft, with services ranging from low-earth orbit missions to interplanetary expeditions
- Key contributor to the country’s $1.7 billion space industry
- Visit website
Callaghan Innovation impact
- Grant funding enabling Rocket Lab to invest in infrastructure, including runway extension
- Grant to expand research and development capabilities during development of the Electron launch vehicle phase