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Rocket Lab says it plans to build its own launch site on New Zealand's Pacific coast by the end of the year.
"It's an opportunity to create the world's first commercial orbital launch range," the company's CEO, Peter Beck, told NBC News.
The site will be developed on Kaitorete Spit in the Canterbury region of New Zealand's South Island — in a spot that NASA used for suborbital rocket launches in the 1960s. Beck said the New Zealand location provides technical, logistical and economic advantages — for example, the ability to put satellites into a wide range of orbital inclinations, the relaxed regulatory environment and reduced pressure from air and sea traffic.
Rocket Lab's launch system is optimized for putting a small payload — up to 220 pounds (100 kilograms) — into a sun-synchronous orbit for $4.9 million. Its Electron rocket is built using carbon composites and powered by Rutherford engines that make use of electric turbo-pumps and 3-D-printed components.
The Los Angeles-based company was founded in 2008 and counts Lockheed Martin, Khosla Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners among its investors. Rocket Lab hasn't revealed who its customers will be, but Beck said that "we have an number of customers willing to fly with us" and that the first launch from Kaitorete Spit could come this year.