Silicon Valley's Hottest Innovations 2016

The Space Rider

With its affordable launch system, Rocket Lab is poised to make the most of the growing small satellite space

Photographs by Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab - Company DetailsGrowing up in a family of engineers, Peter Beck’s fascination with space started when he was a kid. He would accompany his dad who was the museum director at the Southland Museum for meetings where they discussed space and telescopes, most of it went over his head but he was hooked. So much so, he even built his own telescope. Rather than going academic and opting for a university degree, Beck preferred to learn engineering by getting his hands dirty first in his family’s garage by building go-karts and tinkering around with cars. He moved to Dunedin in 1995 for an apprenticeship at Fisher & Paykel where he built a rocket bike that went from zero to 140 kmph in less than five seconds. 

For Beck, it was always about rockets. He spent almost a decade working on space tech, including his stint at a government research firm. In 2006, it was during a trip to the US where he visited NASA and Lockheed Martin, he realised that his childhood dream of working with one of them wasn’t going to be the way he imagined. He would have to jump through too many hoops to do what he wants, which is to build and launch rockets.

So, on the flight back to New Zealand he decided on the name and logo of the company he was going to start. Six months later he quit his job and started Rocket Lab. “Our mission is to make space accessible to a larger population and remove all the barriers to commercial space. These are exciting times for the space industry and all the growth is happening in small satellites. So, there is a definite need for a dedicated service to launch small satellites at an affordable cost which traditional rocket systems don’t offer,” says Peter Beck, founder and CEO, Rocket Lab. Traditionally, most small satellites would share the ride on rockets carrying much larger payloads. So, they would have no real control over when or where the launches will take place and may have to choose orbits that may not be best suited for their research initiatives since they are piggybacking on rockets carrying larger payloads. 

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