August 20, 20007 New Zealand company, Rocket Lab, has developed a carbon, 5.2 meter sub-orbital rocket that it hopes will spearhead a New Zealand space industry. A full-scale mock up of the Åtea-01 rocket has now been unveiled with plans to launch four rockets from mid 2008 carrying payloads ranging from scientific equipment to small satellites and even the ashes of loved ones into orbit.
The Atea rocket (the name Åtea is Te Reo Maori for space) can reach altitudes up to 250 kilometers at speeds of up to Mach 4, and can carry payloads of up to 70 kilograms.
Peter Beck and Mark Rocket are behind the project the privately owned company founded by Beck in 2006. Rocket, (who changed his name by deed poll), claims that the clear airspace and favorable regulatory demands make New Zealand the perfect setting for rocket launches. But environmentalists and Lord of the Rings fans need not worry about Rocket Lab smoking up the Land of the Long White Cloud. Environmental considerations are high on the company’s agenda with the Atea rocket designed to release just 14 kilograms of CO2 per launch – equivalent to the output of a car over three days.
Rocket Lab will appeal to developers and scientists who require a unique orbital environment to further their research. Crystalline materials form more easily in low gravity, making the rocket a useful place to produce materials like protein, high purity silicone and possibly even the elusive ZBLAN. The rocket could also be used to gather data on solar energy and climate change, assisting organizations in addressing them more effectively.
The Atea project is just the latest manifestation of Mark Rocket's longtime fascination with space. The internet entrepreneur has also shelled out $256,000 for a seat on Richard Branson's 2009 Virgin Galactic flight.