New Zealand government okays commercial launches by Rocket Lab

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The competition heats up: The New Zealand government has signed an interim contract authorizing commercial launches by the private company Rocket Lab, pending passage of permanent authorizing legislation next year.

Rocket Lab, which operates a private satellite launch site on the Mahia Peninsula between Napier and Gisborne, intends to start launch operations later this year, Minister for Economic Development Steven Joyce said in a statement. The contract is an interim measure, preceding the Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Bill which will be introduced to Parliament this month to provide a regulatory regime for space launches from New Zealand.

The government wants the bill passed into law by mid-2017, Joyce said. In June, New Zealand signed the Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA) with the United States government, which allows commercial entities, including Rocket Lab, to import launch technology and satellites from the US.


  • Andrew_W

    More people should launch from New Zealand, they wouldn’t face the problems of Government meddling that they do in other less free countries.

  • Edward

    The laws, regulations, and problems associated with the home country would still apply to an entity launching from New Zealand.

    New Zealand has an advantage that few people realize. Several years ago, I became aware of just how many people incorrectly believe that the equator is the best place to launch a rocket into orbit. They think that the “throw” afforded by the 1,000 miles per hour of the equator makes it ideal. They are only correct if the destination orbit is equatorial.

    As it turns out, for orbits inclined to the equator, such as polar, 60 degree, or even 1 degree orbits, launching from a pad on the equator has a bit of a drawback, because the propellant needed to add the inclination to the orbit is greater than the propellant needed to launch from a pad at the pole, 60 degrees north or south, or even 1 degree north or south.

    The best launch latitude is the same as the inclination that the final orbit will be (north or south latitude does not matter, as both can get to the same orbit, just with a different launch window). However, there are a limited number of launch pads, and they are located at various latitudes, and not always the at ideal latitude for any given launch. Russian pads are far north, around 60 degrees, KSC and Canaveral AFS are just below 30 degrees north, and even Guiana Space Center is at 5 degrees north.

    New Zealand’s pad is about 45 degrees south, and this gives it a good location for launching sun synchronous satellites, and is a reasonable compromise for orbits in the 30 to 60 degree range of orbits.

    Since Russia has launched quite a few geostationary satellites, I suspect that New Zealand could offer similar services, if pads and rockets eventually are built to handle that traffic.

    Meanwhile, Rocket Labs seems to be vying to open the first ever commercially-run orbital launch pad.

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