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Space Jam? Not in this universe…

05 Aug 2014

A man of the universe with star credibility to match, when Peter Beck says there’s space in space, he means it.

As founder of Auckland-based aerospace company Rocket Lab, Beck believes the time has come for the business community to entertain the universe as a commercial entity.

Claiming the recent launch of Electron to have the potential to mirror the market impact of the Ford Model T - widely regarded as the first affordable automobile - Beck’s already thinking in a galaxy far far away, and now’s the time for businesses to catch up.

“Simply put we’re trying to make space a place businesses can access,” says Beck, who founded the company in 2007.

“At the moment if you require space infrastructure to create a business it’s a very expensive activity but it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way.

“Our launch of Electron is similar to the rise of motor cars as when they were originally developed it was a case of ‘one or two for the rich and the few’ but if you can find a way to make that more accessible the opportunities you can create are endless.”

Billed as a world-first carbon-composite launch vehicle, speaking from the company’s Auckland facility, Beck says Rocket Lab aims to reduce the price of delivering a satellite into orbit.

At a price of less than US$5 million, the space expert believes this represents a drastic cost reduction compared to existing dedicated launch services.

“The Electron provides two key elements of equal importance,” he adds. “Firstly cost - I’ve always maintained that it’s not a case of cost per kilogram to orbit, it’s the cost per business that you’ve got to raise as capital to achieve what you want.

“Secondly responsiveness - even if you can hitch a ride for free if you have to wait two years to launch how can any businesses possibly be commercial which such irregular services?”

In overseeing an evolving industry during his tenure at Rocket Lab, Beck says the building of Electron, designed to revolutionise the global space market, has been seven years in the making.

“I started Rocket Lab with this vision in mind,” adds Beck, who aims to eliminate the commercial barriers to space as a result.

“There is so much more than can be done in space. For example, when we turn on the TV in New Zealand it is coming from space and when we pick up the phone to the US it’s coming from space.

“If we can launch a decent population of satellites up there we can help make space commercially viable.”

A keen lover of space since his young days staring up at the skies in Invercargill, Beck laughs when he thinks of how far the industry has progressed since his childhood.

“It’s funny, when I was younger I always wished I was alive during the Apollo era,” he recalls. “I always thought that would be the peak of the space industry and the best time to be involved but really now is the peak.

“It’s truly exciting times given how feasible access to space is now becoming.”

Citing New Zealand as the “perfect location” to launch, Beck says the company has an internal goal of one launch per week, and if he can achieve such aims Rocket Lab will have “truly made a significant change in the industry.”