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Rocket Lab gets Airways agreement for New Zealand launch testing

New Zealand space startup Rocket Lab has moved a step closer to its first test and commercial rocket launches following a deal with government-owned airspace controller Airways New Zealand. Under the agreement Airways will provide Rocket Lab with air traffic services for its rocket launches from its private launch site on the Mahia Peninsula.

Airways New Zealand CEO Pauline Lamb said the organisation had been working with Rocket Lab for the past 18 months in preparation for the launch of its Electron rocket. It has created a “special use airspace” designation for the rocket as it launches through New Zealand airspace.

“Our air traffic controllers will protect this airspace from other aircraft using airspace separation procedures, and will do all they can to minimise the impact the launch operations may have on other airspace users,” Lamb said. “Allowing safe and flexible access to our airspace will be an important factor in supporting this emerging industry in New Zealand, and Airways is committed to enabling this.”

Rocket Lab has developed its own commercial launch facility on Mahia Peninsula and plans to deliver commercial payloads into space with up to 100 launches per year. Last month it reported that it had installed the 50-ton launch platform, the final major step in preparing the site for the arrival of the first Electron launch vehicle, which will start testing in the coming months.

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck noted that Airways was in a strong position to be working with the company as it embarks on rocket launches into space from New Zealand. The air traffic control provider has already enabled around 120 near-space launches through New Zealand airspace, with organisations such as NASA and Google using New Zealand for their balloon launches due to the relatively uncongested airspace.

As previously reported in CommsDay, the New Zealand government has also been working to ensure that its regulatory environment can support a nascent rocket launching industry. Economic development minister Stephen Joyce has cited Rocket Lab and other potential launch companies as the driver behind the space regulation overhaul.

“The company and its parent company, Rocket Lab USA, are almost ready to start launching rockets commercially, and we need to introduce a regulatory framework so they and others that come after them can operate from New Zealand,” Joyce said. Geoff Long