Peter Beck’s Space a Domain for All
New Zealander Peter Beck was one of the most talked about entrepreneurs at this month’s EY’s World Entrepreneur of the Year conference in Monaco, because 40-year-old Beck, who grew up in Invercargill, is about to transform the way humans use space.
Beck’s not into moonshots or landing humans on Mars. His Auckland-based Rocket Lab is leaving the long hauls to Richard Branson and Elon Musk. Beck’s technology enables any organisation to launch satellites or cargo into earth orbit, at down-to-earth prices. With the light but powerful rockets he’s designed, and using his own launch site in New Zealand, Beck can launch a rocket for less than US$5 million. (If you have a smaller payload to deploy, you can opt to have it rideshare and pay less.)
Customers can’t wait. Although Rocket Labs has conducted just one official test launch of its 17-metre Electron rocket, and has two more to go before commencing commercial operations, its order book is already filled for two years.
Beck will start with one launch a month, but can scale on demand. The hard part of rocketry is the engine, and he’s come up with a battery-powered engine that can be 3D-printed, and in just a day. It sounds like science fiction, but Beck believes the company will be profitable almost from the start.
With last month’s test flight from Mahia Peninsula revealing only minor flaws – easily fixed with software tweaks – Beck feels he’s finally about to realise his dream. He’s lined up such clients as NASA, US satellite-data company Spire and Moon Express (a privately owned moonshot from Silicon Valley). And he counts three competitive advantages over any potential copycats. His production technology builds high-performance rocket engines 20 microns at a time – “precision you couldn’t get any other way.” His location in the uncrowded skies of the South Pacific provides more launch opportunities than the crowded skies of Europe and America. And finally, he’s got all the infrastructure, from a favourable New Zealand regulatory system that was put in place just for him, to tracking stations on remote Pacific islands.
“My definition of success will be that space has become a domain no different than building infrastructure anywhere else,” Beck says. “The domain of the few will become a domain for the many.”
Original article by Rick Spence, Financial Post, June 19, 2017.