Aotearoa New Zealand’s remote location and unique geography have made its residents innovative by necessity. From inventing pōhā to preserve nga tītī to initiating refrigerated meat and dairy exports in 1882 to engineering commercial bungy jumps in 1986, Aotearoa has had its share of technological firsts.
Industry leaders, innovative start-ups and research institutions are using our remote location, clear skies and can-do attitudes to drive Aotearoa’s space and aerospace industries.
In 2009, Rocket Lab became the first private company in the southern hemisphere to reach space. The company then built the world’s first private spaceport to host a successful orbital launch. Launch Complex 1 is located at the end of the Māhia Peninsula on the East Coast. It is a remote area with a low population and minimal air and sea traffic, making it possible to launch from the site more frequently than other places around the globe. Its location also allows a range of launch angles for rockets. Rocket Lab also builds satellite components and small satellites and manages them once in orbit.
Rocket Lab is helping to establish and operate the Mission Operations Control Centre for MethaneSAT – Aotearoa’s first government-funded space mission.
I think the advantage that New Zealand has is that we think about things a little bit differently. Whether it’s boat building or filmmaking or space launches. We are explorers and we like to search out new ways of doing things.Mark Rocket, CEO Kea Aerospace and former director Rocket Lab
Kea Aerospace is located in Christchurch. The company’s vision is to create aerospace technology for the benefit of people and the planet. Company director Mark Rocket says that the company is named after the native alpine parrot – due to the bird’s beauty, curiosity, boldness and disruptiveness – qualities they want their company to embody.
Kea Aerospace is building the Kea Atmos – a remotely piloted (unmanned) solar-powered aircraft that can fly for months at a time. The Kea Atmos will fly at an altitude of 20 km, about twice as high as commercial planes but 20 times lower than most satellites. Flying in the stratosphere enables the Kea Atmos to obtain high-resolution images (10 cm x 10 cm) and efficiently transfer data to ground stations. The aircraft’s key point of difference is its sustainability. Being solar powered means that it will not produce greenhouse gas emissions.
Data collected by sensors on the Kea Atmos will aid environmental monitoring, precision agriculture, urban projects and disaster management. Data scientists will process the information before handing it on to clients.
Dawn Aerospace is a Christchurch company that is also developing an innovative remotely piloted vehicle. The Mk-11 Aurora spaceplane does the same job as a rocket – launching satellites into space – but it is very different. It takes off and lands horizontally just like an airplane, and it can do this several times a day. For decades, space rockets were single-use technology. The launch hardware either burned up, fell into the ocean or became space junk. A few space companies have developed reusable rocket components, but it takes a long time to get them ready to use again. Because they operate like airplanes, spaceplanes will be able to use airports to launch satellites rather than remote launch pads.
Dawn Aerospace propels satellites as well as spaceplanes. Dawn propulsion modules include thrusters that move a satellite into its desired orbit once it has been released from a rocket. Mission control operators use thrusters to keep the satellite accurately positioned during its lifetime and then deorbit it when the satellite is no longer operational.
Clear skies and effective, reputable infrastructure
Space Operations New Zealand operates ground station facilities at the southern tip of Te Waipounamu South Island. Ground stations use antennas to collect satellite data and stream it to processing centres. Southland’s geographic location enables satellites in a variety of orbits to make use of the space-ground links, and reliable infrastructure connects the facilities to the rest of the world.
Lauder is probably one of those places you’ve never heard of, but if you talk to an international researcher, they light up like a Christmas tree when talking about Lauder.Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher, MethaneSAT science mission
A bit further north is the NIWA Lauder Atmospheric Research Station. It takes advantage of Central Otago’s clear skies and geographic isolation to use drones, balloons and lasers to monitor greenhouse gases, ozone depletion and UV light levels. The area has one of cleanest, least-polluted atmospheres in the world. Lauder is a tiny settlement with a huge international reputation. The station’s scientists have been making measurements for more than 60 years, and this information is used to calibrate satellite sensors and validate global space-based observation missions.
The space and aerospace industries are keen to get young people into space-related jobs. This article has more information about the kinds of people and jobs that underpin the space sector. Then tackle the activity Can I work in the space industry?
Check out the Hub’s innovation topic for other examples of innovative thinking in Aotearoa.
This resource has been produced with funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the support of the New Zealand Space Agency.