Rights: © Copyright. 2011. University of Waikato. All Rights Reserved. Published 30 November 2011, Updated 22 August 2017 Download

Peter Beck of Rocket Lab and Mark Rocket describe how the launch of the Ātea-1 rocket to space was a demonstration of technology that has led to international contracts in the space industry. Peter outlines some of their innovations such as fully carbon composite design, thermal ablatives and fuel propulsion.


November 2009 we launched the Ātea-1 rocket vehicle, and that was a great day for the company, a combination of over 3 years of work. The Ātea-1 vehicle was a technology demonstrator. It had a lot of pretty interesting intellectual property and technology as part of that.

The goal was to develop a launch vehicle and prove to the world that you can, in fact, do what you say you can do. We could have designed a very simple solid-fuel rocket propulsion system and done things within metal air frames and things like that, and that would have achieved some interest because it’s the first time in the Southern Hemisphere and all those sorts of things. However, we really needed to showcase our technology and prove that we can do something a bit special.

So our launch vehicle – the Ātea-1 – was an all hybrid vehicle. It used a completely new fuel that we had developed in house. It was an all composite vehicle so the whole vehicle was made out of carbon composites. We did things like having linerless pressure vessels, which in the industry is just considered you just don’t do, you just can’t do that, because composite leaks gas, but we found ways and we just did it. So after we had a successful launch, there was a lot of interest in Rocket Lab from international parties.

This year, has been a very big year for us. On the back of the trip to the US, we secured a number of contracts. We have developed some more thermal ablative materials and supplied those into organisations such as Lockheed Martin and also supplied some components to the Australian Defence Force for their research, and we also secured a government grant from the US government to develop new propulsion and rocket fuel systems.

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