New Zealand has embarked on an exciting new mission to put things into space using 3D printing, a bit of private land and some batteries. Rocket Lab is a private company that aims to help more companies exploit the potential of space.
The rocket launched from the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand today at 16:23 local time (05:23 GMT) and managed to get to "space" but didn't successfully enter a stable orbit. The firm is looking into why the rocket didn't complete its mission, and has been given permission to launch three test rockets to ascertain the viability of the project.
The idea of such "cheap" and "simple" rockets has wide-ranging implications for various industries. Environmental disasters could be monitored from orbit, with payloads pre-built and ready to go when an event calls for them. And the increase in small cubesats mean that we can perform tiny and cost-effective science projects that build our understanding of the world and space and will eventually, hopefully, allow us to send Katie Hopkins and Piers Morgan off to ruin another planet.
Rocket Lab uses battery-powered fuel pumps and 3D printing to make it possible to put payloads of up to 225kg into orbit. The rocket is constructed from low-weight but high-strength carbon composite materials to make the whole process cheaper and easier launch.
Rocket Lab says it will launch as many as 50 rockets per year, but is allowed to launch more than twice that number. The company's website points out that the US launched 22 rockets last year and there were only 88 globally.
There some concerns about the frequency of launches by people who live nearby. Mahia farmer Pua Taumata told The Guardian that “People come to Mahia so they can go to the beach and it’s been chopped off now and by the sounds of it one of these rockets are going to be launching one every 30 days so they’ve taken over our lifestyle”. Although Taumata also expressed excitement at the opportunities offered to locals and future generations by the industry.
Space is likely to provide many opportunities in the future, but Britain's participaction has always been limited by the fact that we're busy making jam that the Europeans can't live without and pondering the idea of reopening tin mines once we quit the EU.