The Electron rocket at the launch site on the Mahia Peninsula in the North Island of New Zealand. New Zealand has never had a space program but could soon be launching commercial rockets more often than the United States. That’s if the plans of California-based company Rocket Lab work out. Founded by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company was last week given approval by the Federal Aviation Authority to conduct three test launches from a remote peninsula and the first could come as early as Monday. (Rocket Lab via AP)
New Zealand - New Zealand has never had a space programme, but could soon be launching commercial rockets more often than the US.

That’s if the plans of California-based company Rocket Lab work out.

Founded by New Zealander Peter Beck, the company was last week given official approval to conduct three test launches from a remote peninsula in the South Pacific nation. Rocket Lab was planning the first launch of its Electron rocket sometime from yesterday, depending on conditions.

“So far, it’s only superpowers that have gone into space,” said Simon Bridges, New Zealand’s economic development minister. “For us to do it, and be in the first couple of handfuls of countries in the world, is pretty impressive.”

Rocket Lab sees an emerging market in delivering lots of small devices, some not much bigger than a smartphone, into low Earth orbit. The satellites would be used for everything from monitoring crops to providing internet service.

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The company hopes to begin commercial launches later this year and eventually launch one rocket every week. It plans to keep costs low by using lightweight, disposable rockets with 3D-printed engines. It’s a different plan than some other space companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which uses larger rockets. 

AP