NASA Turned Him Down So He Built His Own Billion Dollar Rocket Company

Zinger Key Points
  • NASA wouldn't give Peter Beck a chance when he was younger. Now his company is launching satellites for the space agency.
  • "Here’s a foreign national turning up to an Air Force base asking a whole bunch of questions about rockets — that doesn’t look good."

This story is part of a new series of features on the subject of success, Benzinga Inspire.

In 2006, a young rocket-crazy kid from New Zealand traveled to the United States to show off his experiments to NASA, hoping to come away with an internship. Instead, he was escorted off the premises, so he went home, drew a logo on a napkin and started the process of building his own space company.

Changing His Trajectory: According to a CNBC reportRocket Lab USA Inc RKLB founder and CEO Peter Beck started his own rocket company after NASA and other companies like Boeing Co BA wouldn't give him a chance to pursue his dreams. Today, his space startup launches satellites for NASA and Rocket Lab is worth just shy of $2 billion. 

"On the face of it, here’s a foreign national turning up to an Air Force base asking a whole bunch of questions about rockets — that doesn’t look good," Beck said. 

It's probably better that it happened that way because there weren't many companies out there building what he had envisioned: a lightweight suborbital rocket capable of transporting satellites.

Beck founded Rocket Lab in 2006 and three years later it became the first private company in the Southern Hemisphere to reach space, but it didn't come easy. 

Beck tried to raise $5 million from investors in Silicon Valley shortly after founding the company, and it was probably the biggest challenge he has faced. At the time, the only other rocket startup was Elon Musk's SpaceX and even that was considered absurd, he said. 

"A rocket startup from someone living in New Zealand was even more absurd," Beck added. 

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The Rocket Lab CEO ended up having to raise small amounts of funding from several different places, but it helped to shape the startup. When you see opportunities, you have to poke your head out but not commit too deeply, he said: "Otherwise, you’ll get your head cut off."

Sometimes it's ok to take big risks and other times it's better to be safe and methodical, Beck said, noting without flawless execution, the consequences can be devastating.

Beck used to get sick on every launch day in the early stages. He's past that now, but he said it's still hard to enjoy them. 

"There’s just so much invested in each launch. So much responsibility," he said. 

Getting the company's first rocket into orbit was one of the easiest parts because everyone's attention was on that one rocket launch. Now the company rolls a new rocket off its production line every 18 days, he said. 

"Just when you think things are going good, you’re reminded of how hard this business really is. Every time that you take too much of a breath, you’ll be humbled very quickly," Beck said. 

Rocket Lab has now completed 35 launches, and the company generated more than $210 million in revenue last year. Earlier this week, Rocket Lab announced that it's set to launch four NASA satellites into orbit next month

Now Read: Entrepreneur Makes 175K Per Year Selling T-Shirts He Never Touches And He Works Just 1 Hour A Day

Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

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