The world’s first private spaceport has been completed in New Zealand for Rocket Labs, a private company offering a budget satellite delivery service.
"Launch Complex 1", which was completed in only nine months, is located on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand’s North Island.
Facilities at the complex include a hangar where the vehicle will be prepared for launch as well as a 50 tonne launch pad, which tilts to lift the rocket to a vertical position prior to launch. The company also built a 3.5km road to reach its chosen site.
The site was chosen for its remoteness, which will minimise disruption from air and marine traffic.
Rocket Labs’ business is based on its two-stage Electron launch vehicle, which is powered by an innovative Rutherford engine. According to Rocket Labs, this "adopts an entirely new propulsion cycle, using electric motors to drive turbopumps, and is the first oxygen/hydrocarbon engine to use 3D printing for all primary components".
The rocket itself relies on standard modular parts to reduce weight and enhance reliability. For example, the vehicle’s avionics system weighs 8.6kg, compared with the 4,500kg of NASA’s first Space Shuttle.
The Mahia site allows a wide range of launch azimuths
The Electron is conceived as a kind of space bus, able to park a small satellite in orbit for as little as $50,000. The first launch is scheduled to take place before the end of the year, and a further nine are planned for next year. All of these launches have been fully booked.
Satellites launched from the complex will be used to provide services including crop monitoring, meteorological reporting, communications and location services.
Rocket Labs was founded by New Zealand rocket scientist Peter Beck in 2007. It is funded by Khosla Ventures, a US venture capitalist run by Indian billionaire Vinod Khosla, which specialises in early-stage high-technology projects.
A video showing the construction of the space station can be seen here.
Image: Rocket Labs’ staff pose with their Electron rocket. Illustrations courtesy of Rocket Labs.