Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck was recently inducted into the EY World Entrepreneur Hall of Fame. A great achievement for a man so passionate about rockets coming from New Zealand, not a country that you might normally associate with being strong in the space industry. Rocket Lab‘s focus is on lifting small satellites of 150kg to low earth orbit. This sets it apart from, for example, Elon Musk’s SpaceX which can lift over 54 tons into orbit, enough to fly humans to Mars.
Space is undergoing a revolution today not seen since the race to land man on the moon. The miniaturisation of the electronics industry that brought us smartphones with functions beyond our dreams just a few ago, has also brought ‘shoebox’ sized CubeSat satellites with huge capability. Businesses, education institutions and amateurs can now afford around US$50,000 to build a CubeSat. These CubeSats can provide a wide variety of services that make our lives richer and safer, including monitoring crops, improving weather reports, providing internet from space, predicting natural disasters, providing up-to-date maritime data, and search and rescue services. Normally CubeSats have to hitch a ride as secondary payload on large rockets that are launching much larger spacecraft. Large spacecraft launches occur relatively infrequently, and with prices starting around US$100,000, a launch can amount to twice the price of the CubeSat itself.
Beck saw that he could provide a significantly cheaper alternative for launching CubeSats and enable what he sees as ‘the commercialisation of space’. He established Rocket Lab to deliver 150kg to low earth orbit, 100 times a year with each launch of up to 100 CubeSats costing less than US$5m. No-one in the space industry currently does this. To achieve this, he would need to approach things very differently.
Dare to be different
Peter Beck surrounded himself with a very capable team of financial backers and engineers to develop the thinking and new technologies that were required to make it possible. As a result, Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket is made of carbon-composite material, and powered by the world’s first battery-powered rocket engine. This engine is 3-D printed overnight. These innovations were necessary to speed development time, simplify construction, lower weight, and drive costs down.
Beck has not tried to enter the space industry by copying what others have already done. He has challenged his people and the industry by being bold and taking Rocket Lab in a different direction. There have been surprises and disappointments, along with the constant innovation and learning, will come success. The ultimate prize is that we will all be better off as a result of Peter Beck’s vision and how he dared to be different.
As a start-up, or small business you must stand out. You cannot compete in the industry against already well-established businesses and large corporate ones when you are trying to build yours. Don’t even try. You must be inventive and transform your industry. This will require you to be bold and different.
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