Rocket Lab launches on the Nasdaq – but Green MP is aiming to bring the company back to earth

New Zealand’s  tech sector’s growth into a major economic force  has  been   timely for NZ Inc,  particularly as Covid  has  struck  down   the international education   and   tourism   sectors.

And  then   there  have   been  standouts  like   Rocket Lab,  which  just  last week   had a smooth landing on the Nasdaq stock exchange with its shares quickly settling at a price that values the space launch company at US$5.2bn (NZ$7.4b).

For  the  boy  from  Invercargill, Peter  Beck,  the  Nasdaq  quotation was  the  culmination, on  the  financial side,  of  a  long  march  that   matched the  technical  success  of  his  rocket  venture.

Who  among   his  fellow  pupils  at  James Hargest College  would  have envisaged  their  colleague  would  be  directing  a  venture  planning  the  launch of  a   mission  to   Mars?

It’s  a   story  to  be  celebrated    not  just by  Southlanders   (ever  proud of  their  own,  including  sometimes   their  duds)    but  all  New Zealanders — although some  on the  Mahia  peninsula might  be  slow  to  join in.  Come  to  think  of  it,   the Ardern   government  has  managed  to  contain  its excitement.

Here,  at Point  of  Order, the  admiration   is  unbounded   at  what Beck   has  achieved  in   a  relatively short  span.

In  a  sense,   the  Nasdaq  quotation is  as  significant  as  a  successful  rocket  launch.

About 5.6 million shares worth just under US$60m changed hands on the first day of trading.  Rocket Lab has raised US$777m from the float, mostly by selling new shares at US$10 each, but also by tapping into cash that had been sitting in the shell company it merged with, Vector Acquisition.

The NZ-founded firm, which is now a US company, intends to use much of the proceeds of the initial public offering to develop and manufacture a new range of heavier “Neutron” rockets.

It has racked up losses of US$203m to date and expects to continue making losses for “several years”.

Chief executive and founder Peter Beck remotely rang the opening bell at Nasdaq to mark the company’s debut as a publicly-traded company.

Beck told the exchange the company’s existing Electron rocket and Photon spacecraft had

“… simplified space, making it easier and affordable for companies, scientists, researchers governments, academics and entrepreneurs alike to get their ideas into orbit.

“That has opened up a ‘solar system of opportunities and possibilities’ for innovation, exploration and infrastructure in space for a better Earth,” he said.

Beck retains a 13.1% shareholding in Rocket Lab, worth about US$680m, or just shy of NZ$1b.

The float has also turned more than 100 of Rocket Lab’s other 600 – mostly young – employees into millionaires.

Rocket  Lab   operates   from  two  commercial  spaceports—one on the  Mahia  Peninsula  and the other  from  Wallops  Island, USA.

Of course   the  story  would  not be  complete  without  a  mention  of  those  who  don’t  want Rocket  Lab to  succeed or to otherwise block it.

For  example, the Green Party’s Security and Intelligence spokesperson and Te Mātāwaka member Teanau Tuiono, MP, launched a Member’s Bill to amend the Outer Space and High altitude Activities Act “and prohibit the launching of military hardware into space from Aotearoa New Zealand”.

“This change would ensure that Aotearoa New Zealand’s space industry and its facilities could never be used by military actors to launch weaponry, establishing in legislation an enduring commitment to peaceful conduct in outer space”, says Green Party MP Teanau Tuiono.

“The government has a responsibility to make sure technologies sent into orbit from New Zealand soil do not assist other countries’ armies to wage war. 

“Unfortunately our outer space legislation has so many gaps and grey areas foreign military powers are literally launching rockets through it.

“Currently the Outer Space and High-Altitude Activities Act allows the minister to veto a satellite if it is not in the national interest. However launches from Mahia have carried at least 13 payloads for US military or intelligence agencies. 

“They range from US Special Operations Command, which conducts covert operations around the world, to the launch of Gunsmoke-J in March this year on behalf of the U.S. Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command which was designed to improve US missile targeting capabilities during combat.

“We are also very conscious of the impact successive rocket launches have on the whenua and moana of Mahia. 

“When we visited Mahia the whānau told us about the absence of local birds and kaimoana and we continue to support the call from whānau for independent cultural and environmental impact assessments”.

Seriously?

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