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His Majesty The King Knights RocketLab Founder Peter Beck

In a prestigious recognition of his extraordinary contributions to aerospace innovation, Peter Beck has been named a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in this year’s King's Birthday Honours List.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Mon Jun 03 2024Written by Zac Aubert

In a prestigious recognition of his extraordinary contributions to aerospace innovation, Peter Beck has been named a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in this year’s King's Birthday Honours List. Beck, who started his career as an apprentice at Fisher & Paykel Appliances and is now a self-taught rocket scientist, has seen his company, Rocket Lab, become a global leader in private space exploration.

Peter Beck staged his first rocket launch in 2009 from Great Mercury Island, off the Coromandel Peninsula. The rocket, named “Ātea-1,” reached an altitude of 150km, making it the first private Southern Hemisphere rocket to cross the Karman line, which separates Earth from space. This pioneering effort caught the attention of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and attracted investments from notable figures like Sir Stephen Tindall, ACC’s investment arm, and several Silicon Valley venture capitalists.

Fast forward to 2024, Rocket Lab, with a market cap of US$2.2 billion on the Nasdaq, is the second-busiest private rocket launch company globally, competing only with Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The company frequently launches its Electron Rocket from two pads at Mahia, New Zealand, and a new facility at Wallops Island in Virginia, USA. Rocket Lab’s space systems business has achieved significant milestones, including putting NASA’s Capstone satellite on a lunar trajectory and planning missions to Mars and Venus in 2025. Additionally, the crew-capable Neutron rocket is set for its first test flight from Virginia next year with cargo missions as it priority.

Rocket Lab now employs 1,800 people, including 750 in New Zealand, and continues to expand. The company recently opened a high-tech plant in Auckland for manufacturing satellite orientation devices and acquired SailGP’s Warkworth plant to produce carbon composite components for rockets.

Last June, Beck joined King Charles III at Buckingham Palace to launch the “Astra Carta,” sustainability principles for private space operators.

Satellites launched by Rocket Lab are already tracking methane emissions and preparing for space junk cleanup operations.

“It’s a huge, humbling honour to get...I certainly hope that engineers and entrepreneurs in New Zealand also take this as a win. Hopefully it’s inspirational.” - Peter Beck, Rocket Lab Founder & CEO

Despite his new title, Beck prefers to be called “Peter” in everyday settings. As a member of a business council advising the government, he has championed reforms to boost New Zealand’s venture capital industry and emphasized the importance of education and training. Rocket Lab supports university students through scholarship and intern programs and offers apprenticeships in New Zealand.

Beck is passionate about addressing the “lost generation” of school leavers due to the decline in trades-training programs.

“you don’t have to be a rocket scientist” to join Rocket Lab as an apprentice. - Peter Beck, Rocket Lab Founder & CEO

The company seeks aircraft technicians, composite technicians, and laminators for its aerospace manufacturing.

In addition to his work with Rocket Lab, Beck supports early-stage tech companies through his involvement with Outset Ventures. He has invested in Kiwi startups like Heartlab, which develops AI systems for cardiac scan analysis, and Astrix, which is innovating in solar power for small satellites. Beck provides mentorship and resources, helping to foster a thriving aerospace ecosystem in New Zealand.

Although Beck initially planned to attend university, his career took a different path. However, he later received an honorary professorship in Aerospace Engineering from Auckland University.

“I live life without regret...Maybe I’ll pick up some classes when I retire.” - Peter Beck, Rocket Lab Founder & CEO

With the Neutron rocket under construction and missions to Mars and Venus on the horizon, Beck’s retirement is not imminent.

Peter Beck’s knighthood is a testament to his visionary leadership and the remarkable achievements of Rocket Lab, solidifying his place at the forefront of the aerospace industry.