Small rockets are the next space revolution | Peter Beck
Articles Blog

Small rockets are the next space revolution | Peter Beck

February 11, 2020


So what I’m going to talk about here is,
this is a power station. So if you’ve ever wondered what a couple of million
horsepower looked like, that’s pretty much what it looks like. And for me, it’s always
been about the rocket. In fact so much so
that when I was growing up, the school called in my parents
to have a bit of a discussion, because they believed that my aspirations were unrealistic for what I wanted to do. (Laughter) And they suggested that I take up a job
at the local aluminium smelter, because I was very good with my hands. But for me, aluminium,
or as you Canadians say, “aluminum,” was not part of my plan at all. So I started building
rockets when I was at school. They got bigger and bigger. I actually hold an unofficial
land speed record for a rocket bike and roller blades while wearing a rocket pack. (Laughter) But as the rockets got larger and larger, and more and more complex, I started to be able to think
I could do something with this. Now today we hear about very large rockets taking humans to,
or aspiring to take humans to, the Moon, and Mars and beyond. And that’s really important, but there’s a revolution going
on in the space industry, and it’s not a revolution of the big, it’s a revolution of the small. So here we have an average-to-large-sized
spacecraft in 1990. We can tell it’s 1990
because of the powder blue smocks for all the trained
in the clean rooms in 1990. But that was your average-to-large-sized
spacecraft in 1990. Here’s a spacecraft
that’s going to launch this year. This particular spacecraft
has four high-resolution cameras, a whole lot of senors,
a CoMP communication system. We’re going to launch thousands
of these into the solar system to look for extraterrestrial life. Quite different. You see that Moore’s law
really applied itself to spacecraft. However, the rockets
that we’ve been building have been designed
for carrying these very large, school-bus-sized spacecraft to orbit. But this kind of launch vehicle here
is not very practical for launching something
that will fit on the tip of my finger. And to give you a sense of scale here, this rocket is so large
that I inserted a picture of myself in my underpants, in complete confidence, knowing that you will
not be able to find me. That’s how big this rocket actually is. (Laughter) Moving on. (Laughter) So this is our rocket —
it’s called the Electron. It’s a small launch vehicle for lifting these small
payloads into orbit. And the key here
is not the size of the rocket — the key here is frequency. If you actually wanted
to democratize space and enable access to space, launch frequency is
the absolute most important thing out of all of this. Now in order to really democratize space,
there’s three things you have to do. And each one of these three things
has kind of the equivalent amount of work. So the first is, obviously,
you have to build a rocket. The second is regulatory,
and the third is infrastructure. So let’s talk a little bit
about infrastructure. So this is our launch site — it’s obviously not Cape Canaveral, but it’s a little launch site — in fact, it’s the only private
orbiter launch site in the entire world, down in New Zealand. And you may think
that’s a bit of an odd place to build a rocket company
and a launch site. But the thing is that every time
you launch a rocket, you have to close down
around about 2,000 kilometers of airspace, 2,000 kilometers
of marine and shipping space, and ironically, it’s one
of the things in America that doesn’t scale very well, because every time
you close down all that airspace, you disrupt all these travelers
trying to get to their destination. The airlines really hate rocket companies, because it costs them
around $70,000 a minute, and so on. So what you really need, if you want to truly have
rapid access to space, is a reliable and frequent
access to space, is you need, basically,
a small island nation in the middle of nowhere,
with no neighbors and no air traffic. And that just happened to be New Zealand. (Laughter) So, that’s kind of the infrastructure bit. Now the next bit of that is regulatory. So, believe it or not, New Zealand is not known
for its space prowess, or at least it wasn’t. And you can’t just rock on up to a country with what is essentially
considered an ICBM, because unfortunately,
if you can put a satellite into orbit, you can use that rocket
for doing significantly nasty things. So quickly, you run afoul
of a whole lot of rules and regulations, and international treaties of the nonproliferation of weapons
of mass destruction and whatnot. So it becomes quite complex. So in order for us
to launch down in New Zealand, we had to get the United States government
and the New Zealand government to agree to sign a bilateral treaty. And then once that bilateral
treaty was signed to safeguard the technology, the New Zealand government
had a whole lot of obligations. And they had to create
a lot of rules and regulations. In fact, they had to pass laws
through a select committee and through Parliament,
ultimately, and to complete laws. Once you have laws,
you need somebody who administers them. So they had to create a space agency. And once they did,
the Aussies felt left out, so they had to create a space agency. And on and on it goes. So you see, there’s a massive
portion of this, in fact, two thirds of it, that does not
even involve the rocket. (Laughter) Now, let’s talk about the rocket. You know, what I didn’t say is that we’re actually licensed to launch
every 72 hours for the next 30 years. So we have more launch
availability as a private company than America does as an entire country. And if you’ve got a launch every 72 hours, then that means you have to build
a rocket every 72 hours. And unfortunately, there’s no such thing
as just a one-stop rocket shop. You can’t go and buy
bits to build a rocket. Every rocket is absolutely bespoke, every component is absolutely bespoke. And you’re in a constant
battle with physics every day. Every single day,
I wake up and I battle physics. And I’ll give you an example of this. So on the side of our rocket,
there’s a silver stripe. The reason is because there’s avionic
components behind there. We needed to lower
the emissivity of the skin so we didn’t cook
the components from the sunlight. So we paint a silver stripe. Unfortunately, as you’re
sailing through the Earth’s atmosphere, you generate a lot of static electricity. And if you don’t have conductive paint, you’ll basically send lightning
bolts down to the Earth. So even the silver paint
has to be triboelectrificated and certified and applied and everything, and the stickers,
they’re a whole nother story. But even the simplest thing
is always, always a real struggle. Now, to the heart of any
launch vehicle is the engine. This is our Rutherford rocket engine. And usually, you measure rocket engines in terms of time to manufacture,
in terms of sort of months or even sometimes years,
on really big engines. But if you’re launching every 72 hours — there’s 10 engines per rocket — then you need to produce
an engine very quickly. We needed to come up
with a whole new process and a whole new cycle
for the rocket engine. We came up with a new cycle
called the electric turbo pump, but we also managed to be able
to 3D-print these rocket engines. So each one of these engines
is 3D-printed out of Inconel superalloy, and right now, we can print round
about one engine every 24 hours. Now, the electric turbo pump cycle is a totally different
way to pump propellant into the rocket engine. So we carry about one megawatt
where the battery is on board. And we have little electric turbo pumps,
about the size of a Coke can, not much bigger than a Coke can. They spin at 42,000 RPM, and each one of those
Coke-can-sized turbo pumps produces about the same
amount of horsepower as your average family car, and we have 20 of them on the rocket. So you can see even the simplest thing,
like pumping propellants, always pretty much drives you insane. This is Electron, it works. (Laughter) (Applause) Not only does it work once,
it seems to work quite frequently, which is handy when you’ve got
a lot of customers to put on orbit. So far, we’ve put 25 satellites in orbit. And the really cool thing is we’re able to do it
very, very accurately. In fact, we insert the satellites
to within an accuracy of 1.4 kilometers. And I guess if you’re riding in a cab, 1.4 kilometers is not very accurate. But in, kind of, space terms, that equates to around
about 180 milliseconds. We travel 1.4 kilometers
in about 180 milliseconds. So, it’s actually quite hard to do. (Laughter) Now, what I want to talk
about here is space junk. We’ve talked a lot during
this talk about, you know, how we want to launch really
frequently, every 72 hours, and all the rest of it. However, I don’t want
to go down in history as the guy that put the most
amount of space junk in orbit. This is kind of the industry’s
dirty little secret here, what most people don’t realize
is that the majority of space junk by mass is not actually satellites,
it’s dead rockets. Because as you ascend to orbit, you have to shed
bits of the rocket to get there, with the battle of physics. So I’m going to give a little
Orbital Mechanics 101 here, and talk about how we go to orbit, and how we do it really,
really differently from everybody else. So the second stage cruises along and then we separate off
a thing at the top called the kick stage, but we leave the second stage
in this highly elliptical orbit. And at the perigee
of the orbit, or the lowest point, it dips into the Earth’s atmosphere
and basically burns back up. So now we’re left
with this little kick stage, that white thing
on the corner of the screen. It’s got its own propulsion system, and we use it to raise and trim the orbit and then deploy the spacecraft. And then because it’s got its own engine,
we put it into a retro orbit, put it back into a highly
elliptical orbit, reenter it into the atmosphere
and burn it back up, and leave absolutely nothing behind. Now everybody else in the industry
is just downright filthy, they just leave their crap
everywhere out there. (Laughter) (Applause) So I want to tell you
a little bit of a story, and this is going to date me, but I went to a school at the very bottom
of the South Island in New Zealand, tiny little school, and we had a computer
not dissimilar to this one. And attached to that computer
was a little black box called a modem, and every Friday, the class would gather
around the computer and we would send an email
to another school in America that was lucky enough
to have the same kind of setup, and we would receive an email back. And we thought that was just incredible,
absolutely incredible. Now I often wonder what would happen
if I traveled back in time and I sat down with myself and I explained all of the things
that were going to occur because of that little black box
connected to the computer. You would largely think
that it would be complete fantasy. But the reality is that is where we are
right now with space. We’re right on the verge
of democratizing space, and we have essentially sent
our first email to space. Now I’ll give you some examples. So last year, we flew a small satellite for a bunch of high school
students who had built it. And the high school students were studying
the atmosphere of Venus. Those are high school students
launching their own satellite. Another great example, there’s a number of really big
programs right now to place large constellations,
of small satellites in orbit to deliver internet
to every square millimeter on the planet. And for pretty much
everybody in this room, that’s just handy, because we can stream Netflix
anywhere we want. But if you think about the developing
countries of the world, you’ve just disseminated
the entire knowledge of the world to every single person in the world. And that’s going to have
a pretty major effect. Thanks very much. (Applause)

Only registered users can comment.

  1. as a 46 year old who was so disillusioned with NASA for so long, i'm so utterly happy to see all these stories of how well and fast the private space industry is growing!

  2. Just a couple things. You want to produce a rocket every 72 hours by 3d printing even though 3d printing is notoriously slow compared to other production line processes. Secondly you want to launch every 72 hours and burn up an entire rocket. That sounds really expensive and even worse insanely wasteful. In addition you will be burning up toxic fibreglass in the atmosphere each time. Which at the moment isn't so bad since rocket launches are pretty rare but if they really do become that common then it's going to become a huge issue.

  3. what i don't get about rocket launches, is shouldnt we find a better way to get into orbit before we use up all the rocket fuel? I've literally done zero research but it seems like it is a resource that should be saved

  4. I guess we are looking for life on other planets for we can destroy it like we do with our species and others we should fix this planet before we look for life on other.๐Ÿ™๐ŸผโœŒ๏ธโค๏ธ

  5. Good to hear him talking about this. Space Force is being created for a very good reason and space is the next combatant arena that we are not prepared for. Maybe I need to work for this guy. This is such forward thinking.

  6. Why do engineers use antiquated reference points like horse power? When's the last time you plowed a field using a horse drawn plow?

  7. Rockets that 'self-dispose' sound good. Now if they would take their weight in 'space junk' with them as they self-dispose we'd have something really useful.

  8. The best part about this guy, is he's the only non-millionaire, non-national agency in this game. The only one.
    And he also still has his rocket bike

  9. Wow! Really awesome Peter! What you are doing and your concept; really great! โœจ๐Ÿ“ก๐Ÿ“ข

    I love evolution with technology, with respect for the people and the planet ๐Ÿ˜

    ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ’–

    #discoverenjoyfeelgood2

  10. Hey this was recorded on my birthday! Cool ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ™‚ anyways hello from Orlando fl! subscribe to my new ch!

  11. This talk needed to be a LOT longer. I want to learn everything about his company and hear him talk about more space things.
    Aweome stuff!

  12. I thought the new concensus for rockets was that it was very stupid to make one time usage rockets… as itโ€™s very unsustainable and expensive. Or is this guy living in a world where SpaceX doesnโ€™t exist?

  13. "My school called in my parents to tell them my expectations were unrealistic, and they suggested I became a worker" – let that sink in, deeply. Burn the schools!

  14. Excellent news and I hope he is part of the international business of space development which I don't doubt is going to be something of a gold rush.

  15. FINALLY!!!! Satellite launches is going to allow flat earthers to launch a satellite into ORBIT AROUND earth debunk the sphere earth theory…. oh wait…

  16. i guess that square thing is not actually "spacecraft" but electronic component of spacecraft that have to be placed in a box. antennas and optics have to be included and several engines with servos.

  17. A number of large programs to deliver Internet to every square millimetre of the planet?? Whaaat?? Can you please give us more detail on this?

  18. The problem with small rockets is mass efficiency scales with size, lerger rockets are proportionately higher fuel to mass ratio. Which translates to lower launch costs per pound.

  19. Nobody is looking for extraterrestrial life anymore. We are building a Gateway for humanity to step out into our solar system. We are that life.

  20. Big fan of small rockets, but why dont bring them back?
    Like Elon said, Imagine a big pallet of cash falling from the sky, would you catch it?

  21. Model rockets launched from weather balloon platforms towing them can launch cells into space.
    Future of space travel is actually with the use of quantum eraser experiments focused on rewritting starlight waves ย to particles.
    The quantum eraser experiments focused on rewritting starlight waves ย to particles allow us to sculpt starlight into mechanisms at the edge of our Universe horizon and that allows us to use mechanisms we scuulpt at the next horizon and furthur in moments, then arrange light in the way of the return path to arrive anywhere (even any thought) anytime before or after being sent.

  22. This guys was talking about how he HAD to make a rocket every 72 hours meanwhile elon over hear is reusing rokets constantly and as far as i no(pls correct me if im wrong) nobody else is reusing rockets and just building more and well polluting the planet bc y can anything just be ok for the environment

  23. Seems awfully wasteful and costly to launch so many rockets and let all the booster stages burn up in the atmosphere. If I missed something key about this process not being wasteful or costly do let me know, but why not adopt something more like spacex where the booster stages actually come back and land?

  24. So much talk about space rockets at the moment. What about spending money and effort on saving the planet first. Is there a global government that is overseeing satellite launches, seems with Elon musk wanting to put 40000 satellites up there alone itโ€™s going to get out of control. Soon orbit will be a junk heap like plastics on earth. Humans are selfish greedy idiots. Nice guy btw.

  25. None of this matters… free energy exists, along with โ€œanti gravity propulsionโ€ ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™‚๏ธ๐Ÿ˜

    Edit- space force lol!

  26. Peter Beck is an amazing person and true inspiration! I know most people are Elon's fans but if you think what Peter has achieved – to launch rockets in New Zealand, it's just WOW! Respect, Peter! I wish there were more of you on this world! A lot more!
    (And honestly, I wish the USA weren't the only ones deciding who has the right to launch rockets and who doesn't. Because somehow it's awfully unfair. I mean, they're even counting the Electron launches to the US launches on wikipedia. Why? That's not a US rocket and my guess is the only reason why Lockheed Martin got a piece of Rocket Lab is so that they can launch from the USA, i.e. to get US military contracts and get some cash inflow. )

  27. 1:39

    yeah no it doesn't. that's the chip that runs the software for those devices. sure, those devices are small but that's not the whole satellite.

  28. This guy's like Justin Hammer
    from IronMan.. Hahaha.. Elon is landing his stuff.. hes destroying it in the atmosphere..

  29. That means more launches! So, more pollutant in the air thus adding to the issue! If we can some how turn exhaust into a perfect balance of the natural air. Isnโ€™t this the way forward for a class 1 civilisation, to use every natural resource of the planet without Permenent effect! ( if it ainโ€™t than that c s is wrong or we are not ready. Itโ€™s 2020 people we should be ready)

  30. SpaceX de-orbits the second stage after payload injection. The first stage, fairings, nosecone, ect all return to Earth on a suborbital trajectory after launch. SpaceX has 48 first stage recoveries and has caught 2 fairing halves so far. Rocketlab has littered the ocean with their rockets and hasn't proved to be recoverable as of yet. Claims that it 100% burns up is false as well. Most of it will burn up but dense parts end up in the ocean (engines). At least give credit to SpaceX which has literally revolutionized the whole industry. This video was a pitch for investors and costumers and nothing more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *