A new story from Bloomberg Businessweek


Heavens went on sale, the misfits and geniuses racing to put space within a reach excuse me. Great title. Ashley, as you know, Bloomberg business week features writer. He's also author of another book. Yeah, one of those space billionaires. Elon Musk, Tesla SpaceX and the quest for a fantastic future. Ashley, joining us on Zoom from Palo Alto, California, along with the editor of Bloomberg business week Joel Webber here in our interactive broker studio. Joel Incredibles story and we do focus on the billionaires, but there's so much more here, including what is in Ashley's book. Yeah, I'm really excited about this book because business week did a space issue a number of years ago and wow, it was ahead of its time, but not as quite as thorough as Ashley's book. Which takes this idea of like, look, there's going to be a space economy, and it's going to look completely different than anything that's come before it. It's going to involve a lot more satellites in space. And this low earth orbit thing just get ready to hear so much more about it. And the entrepreneurs that this brings out, obviously there's the Elon Musk on the SpaceX thing, and they really help pioneer what this looks like, but they are not alone, and that brings us to the excerpt because there's this really unlikely SpaceX rival that Ashley found in by unlikely, I mean, you couldn't imagine a more unlikely candidate, right, actually. Yeah, no. It is a one of a kind story. You've got this guy named Peter Beck, who's from New Zealand. I think a lot of times in space we think of either the billionaires or you're like a NASA veteran or some MIT PhD, but Peter, you know, he essentially left school at 16, got his equivalent of the GED and was working at a dishwasher maker as an apprentice and then he worked at a government lab for a while, but he really just did he's like this possessed engineer who was doing all this rocketry stuff in his spare time and is in the shed outside of his house. And he made it work. For a hundred years, individuals had got to try to make a small rocket that could get to space in Peter's the first one that actually managed to pull this off and today rocket lab is like the second coming of SpaceX. They're really the only two commercial rocket companies that are making a real go of it. So tell us more about this guy because New Zealand, not exactly known for space exploration or rockets. And yet here we have a guy in planet lab publicly traded company. How did this all come about? How do you get into rockets when there is no rocket industry around you? Yeah, I think just through force of will. I repeater is he must be like, I don't know what number you want to put on it, like a one in a billion kind of engineer and he did a lot of this early work building sort of a small rocket and then a little bit bigger one and then finally getting to something that could play in this commercial field and he was able to marshal there are these regulations around the space industry that forbid American engineers from helping a New Zealand company like rocket lab. And so Peter, he didn't have anyone that had built a rocket before on his team. Nobody would like real experience doing this and he cobbled together this group of 20 year old New Zealanders and Australians and they managed to pull this off. I mean, he's sort of like what I think of as the platonic ideal of an engineer. It's just like runs in his blood. Like Elon wants to go to Mars. Peter just wants to make things that go fast and rockets and it's just possessed to have to do that. Well, it's so cool that someone with that perfect description of engineers personality in mind ended up with the money needed to sort of take that vision and personality and turn it into what he was able to turn it into. Can you talk a little bit about how he got that money and the operation he built that you describe as something that might have looked absurd because it was three people in an office the size of my New York City apartment. Yeah, I mean, this is like the story of commercial space right now. You know, for 60, 70 years, this was government backed stuff. It was the thing that nations did and only a handful of nations had ever really been major players in space. And then we had this kind of like billionaire era, obviously led by Elon is the most successful. And now we're in the venture capital era of space over the last two or three years about $250 billion have been put into commercial space companies and rocket lab was near the front of that line of Peter. He was with these three guys in this research lab and they built this tiny rocket and sent it off and it was enough of a proof of concept that he seemed real that he could come to Silicon Valley. Khosla Ventures was one of the first companies to put money into it, but you know, there's a pretty funny story in my book. I mean, Peter comes to the valley, is this total outsider, you know, and he's like putting his engines and his rockets on the table and just like assuring these guys that he can do this and he kind of did it at the right time. And they're a public company now. I mean, he's really gotten quite far with all this and paved the way for dozens to hundreds of other companies. I want to talk about just how crazy that is because that first rocket he built when you write about this in the book and we excerpted this part. He ends up holding a bar of solid rocket fuel in his hands. I can't imagine a more dangerous idea, but yet in order to do this, he had to figure out the propellant. So walk us through how that how he cracked that challenge. Yeah, I mean, this is a guy who I'm not kidding. He used to just he would make propellants. On his own, you know, at his house he used to dress himself up and like garbage bags just to keep this toxic stuff. As a parent, when your kid's like, I'm going to go over to Peter Beck's house, you're like, no, you're not. Exactly. Stay right there. As a kid, he had this total freedom growing up. He would just go in the shed and his parents wouldn't see him for hours, and then yeah, he would put these plastic bags on he was telling me, you know, he had this apartment at one point. He's like, yeah, I did so many experiments. I don't think the grass is ever going to grow in that spot again. And there's this amazing video that people can find on YouTube. The first rocket was called the atia one. It's AT, EA, and it's Peter. Two other guys, you know, in Peter's got this white lab coat on to sort of add some kind of like semblance that he knows what he's doing. And they're just literally in a shed on an island in New Zealand and he hits this button and the rocket takes off and it works and he's just out there shouting. I mean, there's something like kind of just very wholesome and authentic and we write about it in the story. I mean, he's a bit of the opposite, the anti Elon. This is not like this is not a guy on Twitter. Stirring things up, but you know, he's just very focused on what he wants to do. Okay, so we can definitely talk about the anti Elon, but in order to talk about the anti Elon, we also have to talk about the Elon. Because SpaceX obviously is pioneered this. Elon has to say about Peter Beck and planet labs and the two of them have met actually, right? They have. I actually like a range of this dinner matchmaker. Peter wanted to have dinner. He was like, well, you better buy me a steak and bring me some flowers. But you know, I mean, space like, look, they are the giant in this field. They're sort of lapping everybody, but rocket lab is incredibly real and the only other player, but I think for Elon, at least Elon claims, you know, rocket lab was not on his radar. We were talking on the phone when I was in New Zealand. He's like, oh, what are they up to? And then I did set up this dinner with Peter

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