Seeing a NZ rocket launch condures an image of a small group of doers dreaming big. Way to go NZ!
Founders were Kiwis but HQ is in California...
Is a Kiwi rocket company that is forced to be half based in the US to satisfy US legislation any more American than an American rocket company that uses Russian built engines and other components sourced from Europe? The flag waving denies the reality that space is a global industry.
Wonder how much of that was from building faster yachts for Team New Zealand?
John Britten's superbike in the 1990s was also a pioneer for all sorts of composite manufacturing
Us Kiwis have always been good at that kind of thing though. There's actually a very healthy aviation technology and manufacturing industry here, especially for such a small country.
That's a long ways from the minimal contribution you're implying.
The manufacturing is in New Zealand. I don't know about design, but I understood that design is also done in New Zealand. They received money from the US and they cooperated with NASA, and for that they needed to have facilities in the US, but I don't know how much.
They now opened a second launch facility in the US, but that is not a large operation compared to design, manufacturing and testing the rockets.
Articles from the past make it sound like a New Zealand company with a corporate structure that is a legal fiction to be legal in the US.
Upon saying that, if I grow old and have kids, I'd love to move back. Good work-life balance, relaxed lifestyle, and ready access to the outdoors. 30% of the land in New Zealand is conservation land owned by the government and publicly accessible. If you live outside of Auckland, you can get outside the city in half an hour, and be in proper wilderness within an hour. All the major cities are coastal too, with great beaches in the summer (although the water is rather cold year round).
It's definitely a great place if you have children. New Zealand is an incredibly egalitarian country due to its small size. I noticed a big contrast between NZ and Australia when I moved to Australia with how much people here talk about their background. People in Australia talk a lot more about their cultural heritage (e.g. whether their ancestors were Italian, British, or wherever else), and there's a lot more elitism about where people went to high school (private schools are very popular in Australia, not so much in NZ) and where they went to university. Since NZ only really has one university per city, people don't really care where you went to university, whereas Melbourne has like 7 universities, and there's a lot of elitism about what university you manage to get into.
For me it's a cool job in Auckland. What worries us is the distance and the logistics of bringing over our entire family... I can see myself working there, bringing over the family, and then loosing my job e.g. because of some recession and not find another job in the grace period.
eh, I left for some complicated personal reasons. I wrote a post about it if you're interested: https://khanism.org/perspective/minimalism/
edit: my visa was still good though; could have easily paid to get my work to residence or full residence visas. Kinda wish I had. :-P
P.S. Avoid Wellington if possible, it's an earthquake mega-disaster waiting to happen.
What, just like California?
I would highly recommend Wellington if you do software, are entrepreneurial, or you are sociable.
It is the most cosmopolitan city, the friendliest to foreigners, the friendliest to all ages (because so many people move there to work, and it is the only major city in NZ with a city centre based on walking).
Just my opinion as a well travelled NZer. Yes, an earthquake would wreak havoc, but I think the positives well outweigh the risks.
> What, just like California?
I tend to think like the parent, so am curious where our imaginations diverge. Basically, I'd worry about a violent enough earthquake that lots of people/supplies immediately need to be moved in/out, but their movement is impeded by the geography. It seems likely that the two roads out of town would be impassible (isn't one on land that lifted out of the water in a major quake?), and the airport and waterfront are mostly on reclaimed land so will likely need substantial work before boats/planes can operate.
It's a lovely city though - second best in NZ to Dunedin!
Wellington is hosting KiwiCon later this week too: https://www.kiwicon.org/
1. Don't work in old buildings - especially hipster brick ones. (Maybe if they have added steel structure that looks ridiculously oversized: see Dux Central, what was Twisted Hop in Christchurch).
2. Avoid living on hills with unstable geology.
3. Avoid living in old apartments that are not up to 100% earthquake code.
Liquifaction really isn't as big an issue as you might think.
Anecdote: my parents are on top of the 7.2 Darfield quake, my sister's is very close to the 7.8 Kaikoura epicentre, and I live in Christchurch.
These seem to do ok and have been tested on some decent shakes, unlike some of the new code-compliment buildings.
Chimneys are a notable exception.
For me the best places in NZ for weather are Nelson, or North of Kaitaia (the winterless North, although rains).
Getting hired is hard, but not impossible. The unemployment rate is sub 4% these days.
If you're concerned about your employability, perhaps email Xero/Vend/Flux Federation/Catalyst IT/Intergen/Datacom/Trade Me/Weta Digital/... and explain your situation?
If you're willing to work with recruiters, the team at Talent Army are bona fide good.
Have a look at the residency points calculator and see how many you get: https://www.immigration.govt.nz/new-zealand-visas/apply-for-...
The 2016 earthquake also showed that despite efforts to earthquake-strengthen buildings in the city, it's still very vulnerable to earthquake damage.
But I don't mind loosing my job for a while. We would mind having to leave the country and move back halfway across the planet after having brought over our family.
I moved to Australia, found more interesting work at more than double the salary. Nicer weather and more genuine people, and real multicultural culture due to truly international big cities.
It's funny that you moved to Australia and complain that NZ is parochial and small minded. I've found Australia to be even worse, although Sydney and Melbourne are large enough that you can self select into groups of people where you avoid that. Australia is multicultural, sure, but not in an inclusionary way. When was the last time New Zealand had race riots?
Real estate in Melbourne and Sydney aren't exactly affordable either, unless you enjoy a 1 hour commute each direction daily.
Australia has great pay, and Melbourne and Sydney are great for the big city life if that's what you enjoy (which I do). Remember as well that if you're a New Zealand citizen in Australia you're essentially treated as a guest worker, you get minimal government benefits, regardless of how long you've lived here, and technically your visa is subject to cancelation at any time (although if you're not a criminal that's not a particular issue).
Real estate prices relative to wages have been in the extremely unaffordable range for a decade and construction continues to be propped up to protect years of misguided investment in what is a ponzi scheme in all but name.
And is NZ not just as multicultural as Australia?
And finally: another commenter here responded "New Zealand's software industry is significantly more mature than it was 2+ decades ago." Can you understand what he means by that? When did you leave NZ?
I hope you care to elaborate, we have to decide next week so any opinion is welcome, especially if you grew up there :-)
One of the main reasons I left is that I could never afford a house, or even the down-payment on a mortgage. If I had lots of money then New Zealand would probably be more appealing to me, but it's not a good place to earn it. I don't know if you'll be able to get a very competitive salary, but it might be worth it if you're really excited about the company, and you'll be working on some really interesting things.
One thing to mention is that most shops will close at 5pm, and many cafes even close at 3pm. I think once a week, the shopping malls will stay open until 10pm. The streets are completely quiet at night, and you won't see anyone walking around. After living in bigger cities for a while, I'm always really shocked when I go back for a visit. It's like a ghost town. It's an important factor for me because I work remotely, so I hated being stuck at home and having nowhere to go at 8pm.
Another very important point: You will probably have to cook almost all of your own food at home. Going out to eat at cafes and restaurant is extremely expensive, and it's probably not something that you can afford to do every day (especially not on a NZ salary.) I'm used to living in cities where it's normal to eat out at restaurants most of the time. But you can't do that in New Zealand unless you're very wealthy.
Anyway, it's great if you want to live somewhere quiet and raise a family. You can also spend lots of time at the beach, and go for walks in nature. But you can do that in lots of other countries, too. Personally, I prefer to live somewhere a bit more vibrant, where there's a lot of opportunities and things to do.
About family & excitement: we have little kids, so cooking at home and not going out much will be normal for us, regardless of where we live, for many years to come :-)
The wage thing is correct. Moving to NZ will cut my income by quite a bit more than 50%. But I'm fascinated with the rugged "wanting it more" vibes of NZ vs my native country. Vibes which I'm either picking correctly or just imagining. Care to comment on that?
I think New Zealanders seem to have a really high level of empathy compared to many other countries. There are lots of non-profit organizations that do amazing work, in addition to the awesome public healthcare system. St John  provides free first aid and ambulance rides to everyone, and they're a charity staffed by volunteers and run on donations (they're also in Australia and the UK.)
Also ACC  is an amazing safety net that most people take for granted. If you are injured in an accident and can't work any more, they will take care of you for the rest of your life. (As well as universal healthcare, we also have universal no-fault accident insurance.) We have a family friend who suffered severe brain damage in a car accident over 20 years ago. They're unable to work, and ACC is still giving them 80% of their salary (adjusted for inflation), so they are able to stay in a nice home with qualified caregivers.
So it's a pretty awesome country. It's just a bit quiet, very expensive, and the tech salaries are not very competitive.
New Zealand is a great country if you want what it offers. If I did want to settle down and raise a family I'd sail back across the ditch in a heartbeat.
I can't see myself earning 500k p.a. in Australia doing software PM, if so, I'm moving tomorrow :)
> many cafes even close at 3pm
That’s far too close to a black mark against NZ coffee though. The weak, lukewarm, milky liquid that is served up elsewhere is deeply depressing. The stuff I want is best not consumed late in the day.
I was talking about the suburbs in west Auckland, like Henderson, Kumeu, etc. And in smaller towns as well. One time we were thinking about moving to New Plymouth, so we stayed for a week, and that was definitely way too quiet for me.
For instance, nobody in Oz has ever asked me what school I went to. I got asked that regularly in NZ by status-insecure middlebrow white people.
That's why as time went on, China kept building their new launch facilities more and more southernly (Jiuquan was built on 40N in the 50s, the recently opened Wenchang sits on 19N).
The Red Plume you see is Hypergolic fuels - the aforementioned "bad stuff". Highly toxic and carcinogenic.
Then again, hypergolic components are generally extremely toxic or ridiculously corrosive or both.
 generally because e.g. Chlorine Trifluoride is such a strong oxidiser it's famously hypergolic with stuff not usually considered "fuel" like cloth, people, water, sand or asbestos
but china probably use the lesser hypergolic combinations for actuall lift off.
Yep, Long March 2, 3 and 4 use YF-20 engines (and its derivatives) which are UDMH-powered.
They're switching to LOX/Kerosene for LM5.
Do you have a source for that? What sort of "stuff"?
In which case, they're not something SpaceX has shyed away from; they are indeed not used on the Falcon, but hypergols will power the SuperDraco engines on the Dragon 2.
When you need storable propellants (either for a launch escape system that needs to be ready to go at any time, or for ICBMs that can be kept in a launch-ready state), and a solid rocket won't do for whatever reason, there's just nothing else that will do the job.
That is, if you don't count Soyuz landing capsule, which carries about 30 kg of hydrogen peroxide and keeps that for up to 210 days flight before landing. And if you don't count Zarya spacecraft, which - never built, but was designed to use hydrogen peroxide for powered landing ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zarya_(spacecraft) ), also after long flights. And Buran spaceplane, which used LOX and kerosine for maneuver engines able to word in a month-long flight. And Kliper spacecraft designs with propulsion on LOX and ethanol.
Even hydrogen can be made working after weeks of flight if you have large enough tanks - there was design of upper stage of N-1 with that. With Lockheed works on space tanker ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Cryogenic_Evolved_Sta... ) the time range can be extended even more. I think we can leave those toxic propellants aside when we want.
The same mix was what blew up in Damascus Titan missile explosion as told in the book Command and Control. Luckily the 9-megaton warhead didn't go off.
I recommend the book Ignition if you are interested in these things (free pdf http://library.sciencemadness.org/library/books/ignition.pdf)
" And if you, gentle reader, have never seen a nervous rocket mechanic, complete with monkey suit, being buzzed by nine thousand demented bats and trying to beat them off with a shovel, there is
something missing from your experience."
Locals make a living scavenging the toxic parts and have awful health problems as a result.
UDMH, hydrazine, and MMH are all very different beasts.
UDMH, hydrazine and MMH are slightly different beasts.
Russians are still using hypergolic fuels rather than the methane/oxygen that most new generation launch vehicles are using.
Spire is one of their customers, that's earth observation, perfect use case example for polar orbit.
To avoid dropping the first stage on a populated area if you're launching into a polar orbit, you also need a very empty area of land or an ocean under your flightpath. For example Israel has a domestic satellite launch capability (they're one of the few countries that launches LEO stuff westbound, to retrograde orbits) because they both can't drop first stages on the eastern neigbours, and can't launch heading north or south.
I do like their little kick stage on top that finalizes payload delivery, though. That will be useful for this sort of thing.
With roughly equivalent rockets, there's a 30~40% difference in payload mass between Kourou (5°N) and Baikonur (45°N): Proton can launch 23t to LEO and 7t to GTO while Ariane 5 can send 21t to LEO and 10t to GTO.
In the past these companies have failed because they focused on providing a launch platform. They said, "Build it and they will come". But no one did, so good vehicles died.
But timing is (probably) different now. There are many more launches per year. And not only that, but there's a few paradigm shifts that could help RL out. Small sats are becoming much more common. Electronics got smaller and thus did the satellites. But also, we've been finding that you can use off the shelf electronics if you stay in LEO. Granted, you should use ECC CPUs and memory (but don't have to), but that's a lot cheaper than silicon on sapphire.
This makes things a little different. Before there was little pressure to push down the cost of a launch. If your satellite cost $250m, what's the difference in a few million per launch? And why would you risk that on a newer company? (Why Musk sent up his Tesla) BUT if your satellites are only a few hundred thousand dollars, then there's A LOT of pressure to push down launch costs. You can take more risks on these smaller companies that don't have a good (or any!) track record.
There's a lot more going on too. But I think these small companies have a much better chance of succeeding than their ancestors.
All modern liquid rocket motors use turbo pumps to pressurize liquid fuel and drive it into the combustion chamber. All other rockets use some fuel to run a turbine that powers the pumps, with the variations being how that entire system is piped together.
The Rocket Lab motor, Rutherford, uses a lithium ion battery and electric motor to power the pumps. This reduces the amount of fuel required to lift cargo into space by about 10% compared to SpaceX’s already impressive Merlin 1D motors.
Also, they 3D print them in 24 hours, all in one part (sans electronics I suppose). Which is incredibly impressive.
But a turbine is much harder to develop and manufacture. Especially at small scale, the turbine is also inefficient so it has less advantage to a battery there.
It wouldn't make sense to run the Falcon 9 pumps with batteries.
But yes, with a hybrid one, you could decouple the rotation rate of the turbine and the pumps. They have different optimal points. Or you could have more pump stages with different speeds. Some engines use gears for this purpose (NK-33). Some engines use two turbines, one for each pump (SSME). Also startup would be nice and easy.
I phrased that poorly. I meant fuel as a class of things compared to relatively sparse batteries.
This is V-2 heritage. Back then the turbine materials were not developed yet that could take the high heat.
Obviously these rocket engines are using a totally different technology, but it's still really impressive that they are able to build them so quickly.
Atmospheric drag effects rocket performance less and less the larger a rocket gets (square-cube law), so that a rocket like the Space Shuttle can effectively ignore the atmosphere. Conversely, the smaller a rocket gets, the harder and harder launch gets. This is the problem Rocket Lab has decided to attack.
A decade ago, SpaceX launched the very similar Falcon 1. Falcon 1 was designed a decade ago, and you can see a large amount of the tech advancements in the last decade in Rocket Lab's design:
1. Cheap, lightweight Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries.
2. Cheap and performant brushless motor controllers.
3. Additive manufacturing for cheaply making complex parts without significant labor costs.
4. Advances in composites to enable the first orbital-class composite-bodied rocket.
Without any one of these advances, Rocket Lab would not be viable. It still may end up not being viable. Rocket Lab can never compete on bulk orbital cargo pricing. However, Rocket Lab's vision of applying recent tech advancements to bring down the smallest possible launcher size is extremely commendable.
Without a number of advances, the iPad and iPhone wouldn't have been viable. (As evidenced by the appearance of tablets and smartphones many years before.) Tablets can't compete with larger form factors on bulk pricing of computation. However, there is a technology inflection point where smaller and more flexible becomes usable enough. I guess that's what RocketLab is aiming for.
Rocketlab business model is to compete with SpaceX on scheduling and orbits for small satellites. Not on price per Kg to orbit. That fits in with the trend to make satellites smaller.
Electric has two issues. First of all, the energy density (after controlling for efficiency of electric motors / turbo pumps) is lower than that of rocket fuel. Second of all, an empty battery weighs as much as a full one, whereas used fuel no longer weighs down the rocket.
I'm suspicious that electrics are viable for first stages where performance advantage is less important. For first stages the cost is linear with ISP. Where it's exponential for second and third stages. (X^2 and X^3!!) For instance the Protons's first stage specific impulse is 285, Electron rockets specific impulse is 303. That's totally comparable.
Does metal 3D printing mitigate any of these challenges? Or is the problem a packaging problem where there is a minimum size required for the mechanical parts?
I did some more looking, the linked study says that turbopumps scale better then electric as the burn time increases. Because burning fuel and oxidizer is more weight efficient than batteries. At short burn times that's offset by the increased weight of the turbopump.
Along with my earlier comment, the Proton first stage only burns for 130 seconds. Which puts first stages in the short burn category where eletrics do well. *but never as good as turbo pumps. Which supports the idea that electric systems can compete for large first stages by being simple, cheap, and reliable.
More whack is relanding first stage electric fed rockets. Ala SpaceX.
Any good websites or books you recommend to learn more about them?
I remember reading an interview with some NaSA engineers who were reverse engineering the F1 engines used for the Saturn V. He said notable was the amount of welded assemblies vs ones machined using 5 axis mills, and parts created via Powder Metallurgy on modern designs.
Nanosats launched: 966
CubeSats launched: 878
Countries with nanosats: 58
Companies in database: 323
Forecast: over 3000 nanosats to launch in 6 years
> A SysML compliant and tool-independent CubeSat template model that provides building blocks that can be specialized to support MBSE CubeSat design will lower the cost of development ... start-up and mature satellite development organizations can benefit from ... common model structure and framework to support increased production without jeopardizing successful deployment and operation.
> Many of these organizations are university programs that combine aerospace engineering instruction with fundamental research while developing, launching, and operating a spacecraft. With a planned turnover of most of the engineering staff within a short period of time ... need a common engineering framework and knowledge base that stores the institutional knowledge acquired by previous space missions, so that incoming personnel can quickly contribute
"Australian start-up Fleet Space Technologies sent up two satellites ... Fleet has spent all year waiting to hitch rides on rockets from SpaceX and the Indian government ... About six weeks ago, it found out there was room on the Rocket Lab rocket. Typically, it takes months or years to get satellites ready, installed and certified for launch, but in this new era of cheap, fast space, Fleet got its hardware on board in record time."
We used to have one of the biggest missile/rocket ranges in the world once. Kistler were thinking of bringing the range back in the 00s but didn't survive. As NZ picks up the baton and charges forward it is good to see we still have a role to play with payloads.
More info here: https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-R/space/workshops/2015-prague-sma...
I understand space is becoming increasingly militarized. I wonder what a war will of shooting at satellites will look like. What would happen if all the satellites were taken out?
I’m not counting it out just yet.
Weren't small low-cost launches the original goal of SpaceX? I recall Elon saying there wasn't actually that much demand, which is why they were forced to scale up in the first place. Has the market changed recently for small low-cost launches?
 http://www.scielo.br/img/revistas/jatm/v9n3//2175-9146-jatm-..., via http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S2175...
Atlas V regularly launches with solid fuel boosters which are much larger and more powerful than an Electron, so it seems like there's no fundamental reason it wouldn't work. The economics is a different story, of course.
Atlas V is slated to be replaced by Vulcan sometime in the next few years anyway. Vulcan has a re-use story, but it involves only re-using the engines, not the entire stage. Full stage re-use like Falcon 9 has the same problem as Atlas V, there's no way you could deep throttle the main engines enough to land an empty stage.
It seems unlikely that anybody (most especially ULA who are very conservative) will turn Electrons into bolt-on boosters for an existing stage design. But integrating small electrically pumped rocket engines into a new design might be considered a lot less risky. Especially with SpaceX having fundamentally changed the economics of the heavy launch business.
Then again, a reusable rocket on a regular cadence to sun-synchronous orbit could probably serve the earth-imaging market pretty effectively.
I can see that future. Even if purely as a learning tool for students.
I just remember growing up thinking that I'm a C student and so all this stuff is to be left to the smart people. And that error in perspective drove my thinking for a long time.
You never really know what will be the spark that helps someone discover their passion. Maybe it's Nyancat Sputnik.
Even cooler if one of them launches a flying data center. Limited bandwidth would be an issue.
See, for example:
I'm guessing partly a hat tip to SpaceX and the naming of their drone ships, but more so named after a song by the Flight of the Conchords.
I’m still amazed there are videos of something you’ve never heard of with 35 million views.
I think HBO allows you to watch it for free now: https://www.hbo.com/flight-of-the-conchords
A more sensible choice than "The Humans Are Dead"
Congrats on the launch!
We've advanced to the point of giving jokey pop culture names to space vehicles. And if they wanted to promote New Zealand's prominence in the world, they couldn't have made a better choice.