FAA Licenses Rocket Lab Launches From New Zealand

First Electron rocket on launch pad. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

The Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST) has licensed Rocket Lab for three test launches of its Eloctron booster from New Zealand.

The license, issued on May 15, authorizes the new booster to carry inert payloads into Earth orbit on each of the flights.

Rocket Lab has established a 10-day window beginning on May 22 for the maiden flight of the new booster. Electron is designed to place payloads weighing up to 150 kg  (330 lb) into a 500 km (311 mile) sun-synchronous orbit.

The flights by the New Zealand-American company will take place from a launch pad on Mahia Peninsula on Hawkes Bay.

  • JamesG

    I wonder what New Zealand thinks about the US being okay with launching a rocket from their territory… One of the most curious phenomenon of the OST.

  • patb2009

    RocketLab purports to be an American Company and is chartered in Deleware
    and receiving US Government money.

  • JamesG

    I wonder what New Zealand thinks about the US being okay with launching an “AMERICAN” rocket from…

  • joe tusgadaro

    Well they’d have to sign off on it too…unless you think the US has secretly built a launch pad and assembled a rocket there and the Kiwis only know about it after it launches?

  • JamesG
  • Douglas Messier

    FAA issued licenses to Sea Launch which was based in US but launched in international waters at the equator. Orbital ATK has launched Pegasus out of Marshall Islands. All 5 SpaceX Falcon 1 launches were conducted from there. So FAA licensing extends internationally.

  • joe tusgadaro

    He’d do it for 1 meeelion dollars!

  • Kenneth_Brown

    Regardless of where a company is headquartered, I still find it strange that a foreign regulatory agency would have any say. I can see a Kiwi agency coordinating with the FAA, but holding final approval or denial for their own decision.

  • Paul_Scutts

    The poor sheep, they’re nervous enough as it is. 🙂

  • OldCodger

    extraterritoriality is a nasty US practice in a lot of fields, opposed by the majority of countries, courts and international bodies.

  • windbourne

    not a big deal. This does not have to be launched from New Zealand, or they can design and build their own.
    Or are you just wanting it both ways?

  • OldCodger

    If it is designed and built in the US that aspect quite rightly falls under US jurisdiction. Once shipped abroad, the launch/flight falls under the launch countries jurisdiction not US.

  • windbourne

    otherwise, we see businesses that will attempt to send technology elsewhere, as well as do things not legal in America, elsewhere.

  • windbourne

    And it is mostly American tech.

  • windbourne

    We have issues with tech transfer, along with making sure that it is safe (within reason).

    The real issue will be in the future concerning nuke thermal engines.

  • Douglas Messier

    Some answers to some of the questions below:

    Rocket Lab has an agreement with the New Zealand government to
    conduct the launches. The government is also working on a set of
    permanent regulations governing that should be law by the middle of this year.


    The U.S. and New Zealand governments worked out an agreement that covers the use of sensitive rocket technology.


    Further, being a U.S. company, the FAA licenses launches even if they are done out of the country. We’ve seen this with Sea Launch which flies in international waters Orbital ATK which has launched Pegasus boosters from the Marshall Islands, and SpaceX which also launched from the Marshall Islands.

    I’m guessing the FAA licensing procedures were laid out in the negotiations on the intergovernmental agreement. Doubt it came as a surprise to anyone.

  • Tony_Morales

    You guys do realize that this rocket was initially an all-New Zealand designed and manufactured rocket, before Rocket Lab was restructured as an American company in order to receive funding for American sources.

  • windbourne

    Huh odd.
    I was under the impression that this was their first real rocket. They developed a tiny sounding rocket, Ātea-1, but it had issues.

    Once coming to America, they got help from NASA, along with funding from khosla.

  • Larry J

    This is yet another complication from the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, specifically Article 8. Since the company is nominally US-based, the US government is initially liable if it causes damage. That’s why the FAA is involved. Back when the OST was written, situations like this probably were never considered.


    “Article VIII

    A State Party to the Treaty on whose registry an object launched into outer space is carried shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object, and over any personnel thereof, while in outer space or on a celestial body. Ownership of objects launched into outer space, including objects landed or constructed on a celestial body, and of their component parts, is not affected by their presence in outer space or on a celestial body or by their return to the Earth. Such objects or component parts found beyond the limits of the State Party of the Treaty on whose registry they are carried shall be returned to that State Party, which shall, upon request, furnish identifying data prior to their return. “

  • JamesG

    The Electron’s design and its tech predates RocketLabs USA Inc.

  • JamesG

    That is not it at all.

  • JamesG

    The questions were rhetorical.

  • duheagle

    They’ll get used to it. Consider the now-famously blase Space Cows of McGregor, TX.

  • duheagle

    Other than taxes, control of weapons-related technology exports and anti-corruption prohibitions on U.S.-based businesses operating abroad I’m hard-pressed to think of any U.S. extraterritorialities. Can you? If not, which of these do you find objectionable and why?

    Rocket Lab, in any case, had no obligation to set itself up as a U.S.-based enterprise. It’s founders must have thought the benefits of doing so outweighed any disadvantages or they wouldn’t have done it.

  • duheagle

    The Kiwis can still say no. They just can’t say yes if the FAA says no. What Larry J wrote about the OST is right. The FAA does mainly concern itself with injury to uninvolved 3rd-parties. Given the Rocket Lab launch site’s remote location, such risk seems negligible. If Evel Knievel could get a launch license with a big crowd in attendance it’s hard to see how Rocket Lab would be denied.

    That said, the fact that the first few Electron flights will be tests might be why Rocket Lab has been a bit cagey about just when it intends to launch. I think that “some time in the 10 days starting May 21” thing was probably done to discourage looky-loos.

  • Paul_Scutts

    You’re right, duheagle, I remember “Space Cows”, it starred Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones. 🙂 Regards, Paul.

  • patb2009

    The FAA also coordinates National Policy for these licenses. DoD/State/Commerce weigh in on that.

  • Jeff2Space

    The US FAA has jurisdiction because the launches are being conducted by a US company.