Kiwi company Rocket Lab wants to launch its first prototype in space by the end of 2015. They recently got two big funders on board, Lockheed Martin and Bessemer Venture Partners (BVP), to make their project real.
Why this sudden interest for a kiwi start up from two big industry players ? As things move very slowly in the aerospace field, we have to go back in time to understand this investment.
November 2012 : Rocket Lab is scheduling a very special outdoor trial… and the chosen launchpad in New Zealand is a farm. The launch happens on a small island near the Coromandel peninsula. Among observers, there are some key people from the aerospace industry, including NASA, US Navy or companies like Lockheed Martin.
Apart from a rather exotic launchpad location, what convinced these professionals to come such a long way ? Since several years now, Rocket Lab’s founder, Peter Beck, is sure to bring a revolution to the space industry. Even if their proprietary rocket, named Electron, looks quite disruptive, the real genie is IN the bottle. The propellant is indeed a mix between solid and liquid elements, such as what you can find in wet sand or concrete. Rocket Lab’s secret formula was designed to be solid or viscous under static conditions, but liquid during combustion. This allows to bring best of both worlds (i.e. liquid and solid propellants), which turns into two main benefits for the rocket design : compacity and fuel efficiency.
The kiwi company says they can put satellites on orbit using only as much fuel as a Boeing 747 flying between San Francisco and Los Angeles. A commercial launch with Electron would only cost around 5 million dollars, which would represent nearly 100 % less than other traditional missions.
If things happen as planned by the end of 2015, New Zealand will be the ninth country to launch in space and Rocket Lab the second private company to do so on the globe.