Communications Minister Simon Bridges says a successful test launch from the Rocket Lab site on the Mahia Peninsula could signal the start of a New Zealand space industry.

The country joins a list of 10 other nations able to launch satellites from their territory. It is the first space launch from a private launch facility.

Last week’s launch of an Electron rocket is the first of a series of three test launches. While the launch is described as a success, the rocket failed to reach orbit. The company says it will investigate what happened but is undaunted. Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck says the launch means the company can accelerate its programme and deliver customers to orbit. He says space is now open for business.

Beck’s plan is to shake up the space launch business. Rocket Lab is focused on small satellites and expects to deal with applications such as crop monitoring and weather reporting. It will also deliver communications satellites.

The Rocket Lab Electron satellite can put a 150kg payload into a 500km sun-synchronous orbit. That means it stays in constant sunlight. That is ideal for weather satellites, measuring and for spying.

Rocket Lab aims to get a vehicle into orbit on its next test flight, then it will work to maximise the rocket payload. The company has already signed several customers including NASA, Spire, Planet, Moon Express and Spaceflight.