The Kiwi success story works for an agency that developed stealth aircraft and the scheme to bombard Vietnam with Agent Orange.
After last delays and problems with a dodgy video transmitter Rocket Lab finally launched its first mission in 2019 this week.
As is usually said, the story of New Zealand's entry into the space age is a great ambition and a great entrepreneurial spirit. It is the story of how a self-taught rocket engineer from Southland built a billion-dollar company out of nothing and how a forward-thinking government created the world's most durable space regulation system.
Lift-off! Electron # R3D2 mission, launched from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1pm. 23:27 UTC March 28, 2019. #OpeningAccessToSpace pic.twitter.com/bXq2aJPU1I
– Rocket Lab (@RocketLab) March 29, 2019
But it becomes clear that there is more to this story that Rocket Lab's success rests on a long history of work for military agencies, and that New Zealand is rapidly becoming a launch pad for US military payload.
Unlike previous launches – there have been rideshares of satellites for a mix of different customers – Rocket Lab's latest launch was reserved for one of His Elderly Clients: The US Military Agency, known as DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
It is the second DARPA-related launch from New Zealand after a December rideshare mission included a NASA-designed satellite that will undertake research for DARPA on improving the performance of a radar system used by the military to detect missiles and stealth aircraft.
But in the midst of the fanfare around the launch (anniversary t-shirts going to $ 32 a pop), you can be forgiven for watching how scary the DARPA payloads are with New Zealand's stated commitment to it peaceful use of outer space. And given the lack of public discussion about this problem, you can just fall for spin: That DARPA is just the thing that created the Internet and what's happening in space can only be good for what's happening on Earth.  According to Rocket Lab's press release for the launch, DARPA is "a US governmental organization and an innovation icon". It has created "breakthrough technologies that have had significant societal and economic implications", such as Portable GPS, speech recognition software and internet precursor.
This is absolutely true. But DARPA's breakthrough also includes drones stealth aircraft and laser weapons and the scheme to bomb Vietnam with toxic chemical deficiencies, such as orange . The societal consequences contained mass scrutiny and deaths of about 400,000 Vietnamese in this case.
And yes, DARPA (or ARPA as it was known) created ARPANET, the forerunner of the modern internet. But this stems from the need for more sophisticated Cold War counterinsurgency tools and for a military communication network that could survive nuclear attacks.
DARPA is basically a military agency. The civil benefits of his work are happy side effects of his primary purpose : "Preserving and promoting the capabilities and technical superiority of US military personnel."
The same goes for the week's launch from New Zealand.
But if you were only to read the public material alone, the impression you would get is that the only point in the "R3D2" mission as it is called is to test a new type of antenna, one that allows greater possibilities in smaller satellites.
Considering New Zealand Herald Rocket Lab's chief executive Peter Beck acknowledged that the antenna had a military communications application, but said "there is equal interest in being used for commercial purposes as well".
Antenna aside sets the ministerial meeting for the launch – given according to the official information law in an editorial and summarized form – another purpose: "F or [US Department of Defense] to test its ability to rapidly develop and launch a spacecraft. "
This is revealing. Space infrastructure is critical for military operations on the ground, but the US military considers this infrastructure vulnerable in an increasingly challenged space environment. In response, US military leaders have called for faster launching features, so
Like all launches from New Zealand R3D2 was approved by the Minister of Economic Development, David Parker, on the advice of the New Zealand Space Agency, which is within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). The official's advice in this case was that "this payload does not trigger any interest in national interest ".
But after only four pioneers, the legal order may lack transparency, both with public and the Minister. In fact, MBIE does not seem to have advised the Minister of DARPA's engagement in the December launch, as The Spinoff reported at that time .
Correctly informed about the launch's military goals this time, the minister has approved the mission. New Zealand remains a close military ally and intelligence partner with the United States, how much it can throw with many New Zealanders two years in the Trump administration.
As the technology industry in general, the space industry is intricate with military interests. However, as demonstrated by the workers of Microsoft and Google who have protested about their employers' involvement in major army contracts, these ethical dilemmas can and should be confronted publicly.
Even one of Rocket Lab's greatest followers has done so. In 2011, Rocket Lab's seed investor Mark Rocket – a man who changed his name by reconciling voting to match his passion – parted ways with the company over concerns about his military work.
It is time for New Zealand to ask a similar question.
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