Just a few years ago it seemed like Rocket Lab was going to be an up-and-comer in the launch world, and so they are today — in addition to going reusable, creating a low-cost satellite platform, and planning a mission to Venus. CEO and founder Peter Beck, speaking at TC Sessions: Space, talked about how he and the company have taken on ever more responsibilities without burning out.
The company just had a successful launch earlier this week, and a month ago demonstrated its first-ever recovery of an Electron vehicle's first stage.
"It was a really great flight, we got way further than we thought, and the stage looks in fantastic condition," he said of that accomplishment. "The next phase for us of this program is to do the mid-air capture with the helicopter, so we don't dunk the stage in the water."
Reusable rockets could change the economics for small launch, he said.
"The economics of small launch against larger rideshares are always going to be different, because you have a much smaller launch vehicle to amortize your costs over," he explained, "However, this is the reason that small dedicated launch is so valuable, you get your own rocket and all the things that comes with that. But if you can get that and have a platform that's closer to rideshare costs, then that's really transformational for the industry."
Regarding the loss of a vehicle in July, Beck said that it was tough but not unexpected in this industry.
"It's the day that you wish never comes, but it's the day that will always come," he said. "The thing about Rocket Lab — this is the magic, right? — no more than seconds after we realized that we had an anomaly on our hands, the team was already working it. It was an incredibly stressful time within the company, and a lot of people were sleeping under their desks, but this is the thing with this team, if you throw something hard at us, we're just going to work harder. And that was exactly what happened."
Indeed, Rocket Lab had concluded its investigation to the satisfaction of authorities shortly afterward, and exactly four weeks later had its next launch.
All the while they've been planning an ambitious mission to Venus, which Beck called "the most underrated planet in our solar system."
"I managed to convince the board to hand over a rocket and spacecraft, and we're going to go to Venus as a private mission and look for life," he said. "So 2023 is when we're going to head on out there and see what we can find."
The exact details of the mission and spacecraft will be made more clear in time, but Beck did emphasize that this is a serious undertaking: "Look, it's a no joke mission. I thought the moon was hard — you want to go to Venus, that's a whole other level. But the way I view this is, if you have the resources to try, it's just unacceptable to not. I don't want to leave this planet knowing that I had a chance at answering arguably one of the biggest questions in the universe and didn't try."
With all these new responsibilities it's amazing that Rocket Lab has been able to grow smoothly with no major upsets. Beck explained that while it may look like they're just constantly adding new things to the lineup, it's all part of a master plan.
"Everybody in Rocket Lab knows the plan. And the plan wasn't to just build a launch vehicle, the plan wasn't to just build spacecraft, there's a much bigger plan here that we're all trying to execute on." he said. "I guess it looks like we're jumping into lots of different things. A good example is... there's a very good reason why the kick stage looks remarkably similar to a satellite — it's because that's what was designed on day one. Quite frankly I was shocked that the moment we announced the kick stage everybody didn't go, 'oh, Pete's building a satellite.' Internally we have a very clear plan on what we want to try to achieve. If I had to sum up the people that work at Rocket Lab, they're just pure executors. The team we've created is just incredible."
"We have a clear path and a great team, so we're just getting on with it," he concluded.
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