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New Zealand Partners in first Government-funded Space Mission

Te Pūnaha Ātea-Auckland Space Institute, based at the University of Auckland, has joined with Rocket Lab and a team of the country’s leading atmospheric and remote-sensing researchers on New Zealand’s first space mission funded by the government.

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Megan Woods announced the partners working with the New Zealand Space Agency and leading global environmental NGO the Environmental Défense Agency on the MethaneSAT mission at the Rocket Lab headquarters in Auckland. A team from Te Pūnaha Ātea-Auckland Space Institute will work with Rocket Lab to set up the mission control centre for the satellite, expected to provide valuable data and insight into methane emissions for up to a decade in space.

Te Pūnaha Ātea Director said that this is a great recognition of the capability to develop and operate space missions that are being established in New Zealand. He added that the partnership between academia and industry is key to the growth of the New Zealand space sector, and they are delighted with this opportunity. Hosting the Mission Operations Control Centre at the University of Auckland also enables educational activities and training programmes that will build important capability for the national space sector workforce.

The mission, announced in 2019, will use the MethaneSAT satellite’s state-of-the-art capabilities to measure and map methane from oil and gas facilities and agriculture sources, which will provide the data to track and reduce those emissions.

Mission Operations Control Centre (MOCC) will be managed by Rocket Lab. Once it is running smoothly, it will be transferred to Te Pūnaha Ātea-Auckland Space Institute as the host. A multi-institution, multi-disciplinary team of Aotearoa’s leading researchers in atmospheric science and remote sensing, led by Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher of The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), will use the MethaneSAT satellite to demonstrate the potential to use satellites to accurately measure methane emissions from agriculture, both in New Zealand and around the world. MethaneSAT is expected to be launched in late 2022.

Similarly as reported by OpenGov Asia, New Zealand’s aerospace industry is getting a boost through the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) to grow the capability of the sector and potentially lead to joint space missions. The Research, Science, and Innovation Minister, Dr Megan Woods, earlier this month announced that 12 New Zealand organisations have been chosen to work with world-leading experts at DLR to complete feasibility studies related to propulsion, space communications, and remote sensing technologies.

Remote sensing technologies have huge potential for New Zealand, including monitoring the change in oceans and searching for vessels, pollutant spills, and sea ice. Optical communications will become increasingly important for securely and quickly relaying large volumes of data to and from spacecraft, particularly for missions to the Moon and beyond, she explained.

Approximately NZ$900,000 (US$645,480) in funding has been allocated to the 12 space technology projects from the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE)’s NZ$28 million (US$20 million) Catalyst Fund, which is aimed at growing partnerships with international research organisations.

Germany is one of New Zealand’s leading science and innovation partners and DLR houses some of the world’s most advanced aerospace technology capability, the report added. This is a natural partnership to enable New Zealand to be involved in cutting-edge aerospace research. The recipients of this funding range from universities and research organisations to start-up enterprises – many of which are conducting ground-breaking research for the future of New Zealand’s aerospace industry. This funding will contribute to studies that are essential for the development of their overall research and innovation efforts.

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