When considering the perfect place to set up shop, most entrepreneurs want to be close to people--customers, potential investors, talented job seekers. But for one company, the fewer people nearby, the better.
Rocket Lab, a Los Angeles-based aerospace company backed by notable VC firms Bessemer Venture Partners and Khosla Ventures, chose the Mahia Peninsula, located on New Zealand's North Island, precisely for its remoteness. New Zealand is surrounded by ocean water, divided by rugged peaks, and doesn't have a combat airforce that could potentially collide with rockets--making it the ideal private launchpad for startups whose equipment runs the risk of exploding mid-air. And it's much warmer than Siberia, the next most-remote contender.
Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck--a native New Zealander--told the Wall Street Journal that while the company looked at securing a launching pad in the U.S., the fact that orbital launch pads had to be government-owned was a big drawback.
The reaction of locals was fittingly summed up by Janey Bowen, owner of the Cafe Mahia restaurant (soon to be known as Mahia's Rocket Cafe). "The last thing that happened here that stirred up so much excitement, with people for and against, was the plan for a new sewerage system," she told the Journal.
Rocket Lab made news in July after Moon Express, a private space startup that became the first to receive the go-ahead from the U.S. government to plan a mission to the moon, announced that it was planning on using Rocket Lab's still-untested Electron rocket as its launch vehicle. Test launches of the rocket, which is composed of carbon composite and 3D-printed, battery-powered engines, is set to begin this year.
It remains to be seen how many other aerospace companies will take their business to the New Zealand now that Rocket Lab has moved in. But the New Zealand Parliament is already taking steps to determine how it will accommodate and regulate these companies. In October, the New Zealand Parliament passed the first reading of the Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Bill, which greenlit the creation of a regulatory body to govern space launches. According to the Journal, lawmaker David Clark introduced the bill by crooning out a few lyrics from Elton John's "Rocket Man."
New Zealand is also home to a burgeoning drone industry, consisting of home-grown companies like Aeronavics, which creates unmaned aerial film vehicles to be used in film production, and test sites for large corporations like Domino's, which completed what was reportedly the first pizza drone delivery in November.