September 14, 2022
Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Rocket Lab
Former Administrator, NASA
As commercial capabilities in space increase, so do opportunities for collaboration between the public and private sectors. The federal government searches for new partners and bold strategies to accomplish critical missions in low earth orbit and beyond.
At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Aerospace Summit, Rocket Lab President, Founder, and CEO Peter Beck and former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden discussed Rocket Lab’s work, how the public and private sectors can work together on continued innovations, and the future of space exploration.
Rocket Lab Has Played a Key Role in the CAPSTONE Project
CAPSTONE, defined by NASA as “the first spacecraft to test a unique, elliptical lunar orbit as part of the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE),” launched on June 28, 2022, aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket.
“Our part of the mission was to launch the CAPSTONE spacecraft [and] put it in low Earth orbit,” said Beck. “Our photon high-energy stage did a series of orbit raising maneuvers and then sent it off onto its TLI trajectory into the moon.”
CAPSTONE also signifies a small-business-led mission rather than a NASA-led prime mission, ushering in the opportunity for small business growth in the space industry.
“It opens up a whole new era of low-cost planetary science expeditions,” Beck explained.
Government and Private Sector Partnerships Enable Deeper Space Exploration
Beck remarked on the critical role government partnerships hold for the future of space exploration and space sustainability. He noted that Rocket Lab’s history is peppered with partnerships like intro missions or NASA Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) contracts that became formative for the company, because they enabled the company to take the NASA stamp of approval and raise venture capital.
“Once a business case is established, that's when the government should step out and allow the industry to come in and provide those services at the best value and best cost,” Beck said.
Securing the Future of the Industry Requires Filling the STEM Pipeline
Beck, who took a non-traditional path to the space industry, believes in cultivating interest and opportunities in STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — for children as young as six years old.
“We have a whole education program,” Beck said. “We've visited 150 schools, and we've got 11,500 kids signed up to our Space Ambassadors program. We learned very early on that there's no point in targeting high [schoolers] because … they've already decided what they want to or it's already been beaten out of them that they can't have dreams.”
Beck added: “We found that [when] we go to the primary schools, we use the rocket as the inspiration, but teach them two things … there's a strong angle of STEM, but we [also] teach entrepreneurialism just as much as we try to promote STEM in those programs.”
Rocket Lab Has Big Goals for the Decade Ahead
Rocket Lab has grown exponentially since its inception in 2006. Beck seeks to establish Rocket Lab as an end-to-end space company that provides launch services, orbit management, and more. The company is well on its way to achieving its goals based on its innovative vehicles (like the neutron vehicle), varied accomplishments within a 12-month time frame, and past partnerships.
“If we continue the trajectory, I think we hopefully will have had some pretty significant impact in the world,” Beck said.
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