back to article Kiwi Rocket Lab to build SUPER-CHEAP sat launchers (anyone know 30 rocket scientists?)

A new outfit launched in Auckland, New Zealand, believes that by next year it'll be ready to sling satellites spacewards for as little as $5m. The only hitch is its need to recruit a few rocket scientists – ah, about 30 – who are prepared to relocate to New Zealand. Rocket Lab has just kicked off an American presence to help …

  1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    It's a bit of a bad comparison to say that it normally costs over $100m to launch a 5T satellite to geo-stationary orbit, and then say that this rocket will launch 0.1T to LEO for $5m.

    It's a bit like asking why does a flight from the UK to New Zealand cost so much, when a Tuc Tuc ride in Tailand only costs £0.10.

    1. WillbeIT

      True but currently there is no such 'tuc tuc' service available for would be small satellite slingers is there?

      1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

        Please don't get me wrong. I wholeheartedly agree that this is needed, and I like the look of what they are proposing. I just think it a bit disingenuous to compare the launch costs of this and a geo telecoms sat. (Just like if I say that my bicycle is cheap because it costs less than a Rolls Royce)

  2. Pete 2

    Amortise

    > Rocket Lab's low-cost launcher ... will cost less than $5m

    So if a single launcher can be built for $5 Mil, how much are the development costs going to be - and what happens to the cost-of-launch if the project can't fling 100 units a year into the sky?

    I haven't a clue what it would cost to develop a new, commercial launcher from scratch - but lets make a WAG¹ at about $1Bn (which sounds incredibly low - you'd think NASA would have new launchers coming out of it's ... if they were that cheap to design and develop). then over 10 years his repayments will be about $10 M per month at 5%. So at 100 launches a year, that's a smidge over $1M per launch in finance costs. And then there's all the overheads, on top.

    Personally, I'm skeptical.

    [1] Wild Assed Guess - the foundation of all government, economic and commercial proposals

    1. Esme

      Re: Amortise

      I don't know what Copenhagen Sub-Orbital's budget to date has been, but I'd be highly surprised if they've had anything like a billion USD thus far (they're an amateur rocketry outfit), and their ultimate aim is to send a human on a sub-orbital flight. Granted, achieving orbit is that bit harder, but 5mil doesn't sound inconceivable to me (NB: I am not an expert, I just follow current space efforts online now and then). And didn't SpaceX get going with considerably less than a billion and are now delivering loads to the ISS, with a human-rated multi-crew capsule due to launch within a couple of years?

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Meh

      Re: Amortise

      "I haven't a clue what it would cost to develop a new, commercial launcher from scratch - but lets make a WAG¹ at about $1Bn (which sounds incredibly low - you'd think NASA would have new launchers coming out of it's ..."

      Wrong.

      SpaceX's figures (checked over by NASA) were about $200m including the F1 and 1st launch of the F9.

      However LOX and Carbon Fibre make quite an interesting propellant mix on their own.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: Amortise

        The R&D costs are wholly irrelevant, assuming a $5m launcher can be built. R&D is always a NRE, assuming the product goes to market. If the product doesn't go to market the costs are spread across the organization in whatever manner Management deems best.

        Obviously, the funds for R&D have to come from somewhere, but as far as your bookkeeping goes those funds go down the same chute as utility bills and facilities maintenance. That kind of money is broken out from the figures that deal with actual financial performance. Which is why investors hate R&D so much.

        The money is gone and will never again be seen on the side of the line where money is made. From a bookkeeping perspective, R&D breaks the laws of physics and results in the absolute, and complete, annihilation of matter. The way R&D is accounted for is one of the few things in corporate accounting that actually benefits the customer. If R&D was calculated as a component of product cost the display you're staring at right now would have cost you approximately $2b :)

  3. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Brain Drain

    The reason New Zealand has one, is that the envionment there is hostile to new ventures. In particular there are no taxation breaks for R&D and the telecommunications environment is expensive thanks to 30 years of monopolistic abuse by the incumbent telco

    The former is why many companies jump across the Tasman (Australia offers 150% rebates on R&D) and the latter is why virtually every attempt the NZ govt has made to encourage establishment of things like call centres in Kiwiland has foundered (the exceptions have mainly been "adult services", which the NZ govt definitely hasn't been encouraging).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Brain Drain

      "telecommunications environment is expensive thanks to 30 years of monopolistic abuse by the incumbent telco"

      Which incumbent telco, exactly? NZ hasn't had one of its own since the Post Office telecom division was sold off for privatisation in the late '80s.

      New Zealand Telecom(*) has been owned by the Americans - Bell Atlantic Corporation and Ameritech Corporation - for decades. The buyout cost my dad his job.

      (* Now called something nausea-inducing in the style of NZ's wave of cheesy corporate rebrandings over the last decade)

  4. frank ly

    How many orbiting satellites can be put up there?

    Is there any international agreement or control over who can launch and establish a satellite in orbit? Is there a 'slot map' anywhere that can be consulted?

    1. Caff

      Re: How many orbiting satellites can be put up there?

      nope, and it is a problem

      old article

      http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2009/02/how-to-prevent-another-satelli.html

    2. 96percentchimp

      Re: How many orbiting satellites can be put up there?

      Geostationary orbits are divided between countries up by international agreement, and usually then leased to commercial operators, but there's no regulation anywhere else, hence the growing clouds of crap filling up LEO.

    3. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Re: How many orbiting satellites can be put up there?

      It depends. If you want to put something on the equitorial geo-stationary belt, then yes, there is slot allocation. However this rocket wouldn't even manage to get itself anywhere near on a trajectory in that directdion, let alone a payload.

      In Low-Earth Orbit, there is a generally agreed rule that if you put something up there, you have to make sure it comes back safetly and doesn't just litter. The new Metop sats had a problem with this, and the redesign to carry enough fuel to de-orbit safetly was significant. However Metops are also significantly bigger than this rocket can fly.

      That leaves the little micro / nano satellites etc. I think that the rules generally depend on the launching country, and are generally more relaxed. You generally have to ensure that it will de-orbit within a certain time-frame, which normally just means putting it into the correct orbit. However, for example the law in the UK says something like if you want to launch something into space, then you have to get it up there and back by chauffeured Rolls Royce and jump though a few hoops on the way, while wrapped in red-tape.

  5. James Hughes 1

    Looks like....

    A playmonaut sized Falcon 9.

  6. Evil Auditor Silver badge
    Devil

    110kg payload

    That's just enough to send my boss into space. $5m you say? Put it on travel expenses, but make sure he signs it before his departure.

  7. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    favourable launch location in NZ

    NZ is about 41deg S.

    Unless they have changed the Earth's rotation recently the only thing favourable about it's location is that you could explode something rather large there without disturbing the neighbours.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Re: favourable launch location in NZ

      "NZ is about 41deg S.

      Unless they have changed the Earth's rotation recently the only thing favourable about it's location is that you could explode something rather large there without disturbing the neighbours."

      True. Florida is not good at 28deg compared to French Guiana at about 5 but NZ is rubbish.

      Mind you plenty of ocean to drop a dud launch into.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: favourable launch location in NZ

        The only thing advantageous for Cape Canaveral is that it was/is a swamp full of alligators, rabid Acadians and black flys, so the property was essentially worthless until somebody built a space center there.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: favourable launch location in NZ

          It is also about as far south as you can travel in the USA without having to invade somebody.

          Launching from the equator is rather advantageous for most orbits.

          It also has a large area to the east where it wouldn't really matter if you dropped a rocket - although the same could be said for everywhere between Pasadena and Boston.

          The best strategy is remembering that you used to have a country named after you, almost exactly on the equator on the east coast of S. America and building a launch site there.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: favourable launch location in NZ

      Could easily ship it up to North Queensland which is approx -10S, just tell them its top secret hush hush.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: favourable launch location in NZ

        British rocket scientists built a launch site in Australia but the lack of real ale meant productivity was poor.

    3. SDoradus

      Re: favourable launch location in NZ

      Sorry, no, that's wrong, the place of launch would be about 37 degrees south and that inclination for technical reasons is excellent for the angle of orbit required in this application.

  8. Marcus Aurelius

    Anyone know 30 rocket scientists?

    There seem to be a plentiful supply in

    a) Russia

    b) Palestine and Israel

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Anyone know 30 rocket scientists?

      There are plenty of 'rocket scientists'. It's not like there is one in every neighborhood or anything, but they are certainly not difficult to find if you go actively looking for some. We've got one. They're easier to find than top flight Metrologists.

      But the problem isn't in finding rocket scientists. They're all mostly in the same places, which is on the staff of aerospace firms. More specifically, the defense side of aerospace. Because of that, you've got to come with serious compensation and benefits offerings if you want to steal them away. They are very jealously guarded by their employers and, depending on their specialty, you may have to go through government channels to recruit them. They are rocket scientists after all. You want to keep tabs on who they're working for :) We only got ours because he did something incredibly stupid and was blackballed by the aerospace industry.

      Anyway, point is, they're out there, but they're really expensive and generally fairly happy where they are.

      1. Marcus Aurelius

        Re: Anyone know 30 rocket scientists?

        Anyway, point is, they're out there, but they're really expensive and generally fairly happy where they are.

        I'm fairly certain the above statement is not true of those who happen to be in Gaza right now...

  9. Vaughan 1

    I think you've confused the names of the rocket and engines, from what I have read the engine is called Rutherford and the rocket is called Electron.

    1. Youngone

      Error

      It is called The Hauraki Gulf, also New Zealand is not "sparsely populated", there are dozens of us.

      1. Heathroi

        Re: Error

        and christ help you if you disturb Hauraki's taniwha.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Error

        >New Zealand is not "sparsely populated", there are dozens of us.

        Blimey - the sheep can type now.

  10. WaveyDavey

    Aah.

    Shame they're not recruiting IT bods, I'd be over there like a shot !

  11. Breen Whitman

    Being New Zealand, Customs love incoming revenue gathering. Kids presents worth $10? That'll be $120 for release thanks.

    If this ever comes back to earth its ass belongs to customs. 15% GST on $6 mil, they'll be weeping with joy.

    (wreaking xmas for kids isn't enough)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ Breen Whitman

      Utter bullshit. The only time I have ever duty, or more recently GST was on a computer I bought in Singapore for about half the price that they were in NZ at the time, and that was back in about '81 if I recall correctly.

      I was charged GST of 15% on a $2000 order I imported a couple of years back.

      $120 on $10? Don't be ridiculous.

      Other things I have bought online have cost nothing extra and they've all been declared.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020