Are Rocket Lab’s enterprises in New Zealands national interest?

Rocket Lab

It’s one of our most lauded companies: a true New Zealand success story – but how much do we know about what Rocket Lab is carrying into outer space, and who it’s carrying that load for?

Today on The Detail, Emile Donovan speaks to investigative journalist Ollie Neas about the company’s deep ties with the US military and intelligence agencies, and whether our policies around space launches are in the country’s national interests.

Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by engineer and scientist Peter Beck.

Three years later, in 2009, it became the first private company in the Southern Hemisphere to launch a rocket into outer space, from its idyllic launch site on the Mahia Peninsula, between Napier and Gisborne.

And over the past decade, the company has gone from strength to strength: attracting hundreds of millions of dollars in investment from companies like ACC, Callaghan Innovation, and US arms company Lockheed Martin.

Nelson-based investigative journalist Ollie Neas says the company has carved out a niche for itself as a premier space courier company.

“Rocket Lab likes to think of itself as the FedEx of space, essentially. The idea is it has these small rockets that it can launch quickly and cheaply, and that allows people to put satellites into orbit on a much faster basis, and at a far lower price, than in the past.”

But Rocket Lab’s clientele isn’t as varied as its list of investors: in 2010 it was awarded a U.S government contract from the Operationally Responsive Space Office.

Since then it’s gone on to deliver payloads on behalf of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) – one of the US government’s largest intelligence agencies.

It’s also carried out work on behalf of the Office of Naval Research – the main research agency for the United States Navy and Marine Corps – and the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is the Pentagon agency tasked with developing technologies that “maintain and advance the capabilities and technical superiority of the United States military”. Continue reading

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