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”.