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  • Position: CEO and technical director, Rocket Lab
    Field: Rocket engineering

    Sir Peter Beck is CEO and technical director of Rocket Lab, a New Zealand rocket technology company. He founded Rocket Lab in 2006 with the goal of making space accessible to commercial business. Peter has a vision that affordable access to space will enable powerful global change – for example allowing developing nations better access to internet. He says, "Disseminating the knowledge of the world, access to education and information globally will be a game changer for many."

    Rights: Rocket Lab

    Peter Beck with an Electron rocket

    Rocket Lab CEO and Chief Technical Officer Peter Beck stands next to an Electron rocket. The Electron rocket is 18 metres long and 1.2 metres in diameter.

    Peter led Rocket Lab to accomplish its first major goal of building and launching a rocket to reach space in 2009.

    In 2013, Rocket Lab achieved backing from a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. At this time they also made the move to the United States, basing their corporate headquarters in Los Angeles and registering the company there. The research and development arm of Rocket Lab remains predominantly within New Zealand, at their facility near Auckland Airport. Rocket Lab have also built a rocket launch facility at Mahia Peninsula on the East Coast of New Zealand. In 2017 he watched on as Rocket Lab launched their Electron rocket into space from this, the world's first private orbital launch site in New Zealand.

    Peter continues to lead Rocket Lab as a high-tech company in international markets.

    Rights: Rocket Lab

    Rocket Lab team in 2008

    Peter Beck, Mark Rocket and other team members in the very early days of Rocket Lab – prior to the 2009 launch to space of their Ātea-1 rocket.

    Before forming Rocket Lab, Peter’s already prestigious career included work with Crown research institute Industrial Research Ltd (IRL). During this time, one of the projects he was heavily involved with included work on aspects of high-temperature superconductor manufacture.

    I would certainly encourage any young student out there to pursue a career in engineering and science.

    Peter Beck

    Peter’s passion and skills in high-tech engineering began at an early age. He came from a family of engineers and always had a workshop and tools available to him to foster his innovation and practical skills. After leaving school, Peter pursued an advanced trade in precision engineering. This practical grounding has enabled Peter to develop Rocket Lab’s propulsion technologies to such high levels.

    Rights: © Copyright. 2011. University of Waikato. All Rights Reserved.

    Becoming a rocket engineer

    Peter Beck from Rocket Lab describes how he became interested in rockets and shows the first rocket engine he ever made.

    Peter is New Zealand’s leading rocket technology expert. He maintains a very hands-on approach with all aspects of the company’s rocket propulsion research, testing and manufacture. He has always enjoyed solving engineering challenges and is confident about Rocket Lab’s continuing success.

    As the company's expansion continued, in 2020, Rocket Lab moved its headquarters to Long Beach, California.

    There's going to be a lot of people that tell you it's not possible; there's going to be many, many times when it just seems impossible and hard, but we always find a way.

    Peter Beck

    Awards

    Peter's work has been much lauded, in February 2015 Peter Beck was named 'New Zealand Innovator of the Year'. In June 2017 Peter was inducted into the EY World Entrepreneur Hall of Fame. Earlier he was awarded the Royal Society Cooper Medal for the best single account of research in physics and engineering, as well as a Meritorious Medal from the Royal Aeronautical Society for services of an exceptional nature leading to major advances in New Zealand aviation.

    In October 2017 at the NZ Innovation Awards, Rocket Lab took out the 'Bayer Supreme New Zealand Innovation for 2017' as well as winning the award for innovation in design and engineering. 2018 saw Peter being awarded one of six medals in the Sir Peter Blake Leadership Awards.

    Peter was named an adjunct professor of aerospace engineering by the University of Auckland in 2019. Both Rocket Lab and Peter weree awarded the Pickering Medal by the Royal Society Te Apārangi in 2020.

    In the 2024 King’s Birthday Honours, Peter was appointed a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to the aerospace industry, business and education.

    This article is based on information current in 2017, and updated in 2024.

    Useful links

    News story from September 2016 about Rocket Lab opening in the Hawke's Bay, the world's first private orbital launch site.

    On the 25 May 2017 Rocket Lab broke new ground when its Electron rocket reached space from the world's first private orbital launch site.

    Listen to this RNZ interview with Sir Peter Beck on his knighthood and the path that brought him there and his future plans.

      Published 30 November 2011, Updated 3 June 2024 Referencing Hub articles
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