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NZ rocket launch earns praise

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 25/05/2017

National and international experts have been glowing of Rocket Lab's Electron rocket launch on Thursday.

New Zealand's successful entry into the space age - with the launch from the remote Mahia Peninsula, between Napier and Gisborne - caught the world's attention.

Although the rocket did not quite make it into orbit, former NASA director of launch programmes Kris Walsh says the next actions of Rocket Lab will be important to watch.

"They made it to space and have the data to assess all aspects of the flight," he said.

"Although Rocket Lab's control of data is frustrating to the news media, to me it demonstrates that there is a process in place to assess the data carefully."

Dr George Sowers, the former chief scientist and vice president of United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, noted that the "general record" for successful first rocket launches is 50 per cent.

"There are three challenges in the space business - technology risk, performance risk and market risk," he said.

"Rocket Lab seems well on the way to getting the technology under control [and] the performance and market risk is still in front of them. I wish them the best."

Professor Richard Easther, professor of physics at Auckland University, says the launch has been a major accomplishment.

"If Rocket Lab develops a viable launch industry in New Zealand, its impact will be extend far beyond the purely commercial benefits."

Rocket Lab chief executive and founder Peter Beck said it was a milestone day for New Zealand.

"It's not every day that a country goes to space, I think New Zealand is the 11th nation now to do that, and, if you look at the other nations, they are generally super powers," he told Newshub on Friday.

The rocket reached space but it did not reach orbit, which requires significantly more energy as the launch vehicle must accelerate to about 27 times the speed of sound.

"All the really critical and key stages to go to orbit we achieved," Mr Beck said.

"We didn't quite get there but we'll find out exactly why but if you've seen any of the footage, New Zealand looks great from space."

He said the launch also achieved a number of world firsts.

"It was the first all 3D printed rocket engine, first all carbon composite launch vehicle, first electric turbo pump - there was a lot of boxes ticked."

Rocket Lab would now push ahead with its next test flights and into commercial operations, Mr Beck said.

He said the company aimed to send small satellites into orbit because satellites, like other forms of technology, were becoming smaller and did not require large expensive rockets to launch them.

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