A Kiwi company has high hopes of rocketing into space, outlining bold plans to send scientific packages, DNA and human ashes above the Earth.
Auckland firm Rocket Lab, co-directed by Christchurch's Mark Rocket, has announced plans to launch six rockets into space, probably blasting off from the South Island, and starting in September next year.
The rockets would travel 150km above Earth and could be used for scientific research, said Rocket, the project's business development manager.
Rocket Lab had also signed a deal with American firm Celestis to send human ashes into space.
Based in Houston, Texas, Celestis has offered "space burials" since 1997, firing off rockets containing the ashes of cremated people into the stratosphere. It sent the ashes of Star Trek actor James Doohan who played Scottie the engineer into space this year.
Rocket and lead designer Peter Beck yesterday unveiled Atea-01, a 5.5m tall rocket designed to travel at four times the speed of sound, named after the Maori word for space.
The rockets would return to Earth, to be recovered from the sea using a helicopter.
Rocket said New Zealand had a "golden opportunity" to be a space industry leader in the southern hemisphere.
This country was a good place for launching rockets with clear airspace, a good infrastructure and a favourable regulatory environment.
"New Zealand has the know-how to be part of the global space industry," he said.
The rockets could be used for scientific research, investigating micro gravity, solar physics and climate change.
He said the Kiwi space bid would provide a platform for scientific instruments, and the company planned to market its technology, systems and components to the international space industry.
Sending scientific projects into space would cost between $50,000 and $100,000 depending on the type of experiment and how high the rocket would need to go, a company spokesman said.
The company's demonstration video suggested a launch from the south-east coast of the South Island.
Rocket, a space enthusiast who changed his name from Stevens, is a Christchurch internet entrepreneur who set up Avatar Web Promotions in 1988 as a specialist in internet marketing.
He and co-developer Cambel Ferguson sold their sideline New Zealand Tourism Online website to Yellow Pages for a rumoured $10 million last year.
Rocket is also one of four New Zealanders among 200 people from 30 countries who have signed up for $256,000-a-seat space flights with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.
That flight is scheduled to lift off from New Mexico and climb 109km above Earth's surface some time after 2009.
Rocket Lab had received some government funding but Mark Rocket was meeting most of the costs.
The company is confident of sending ashes into space.
It is also touting a service to carry business cards and plaques into space and returning them all for an as yet undisclosed fee. Clients could also send dna samples into space and get them back, certified as space travellers.
Celestis offers a range of space burials, with costs ranging from $US995 to $US5300 ($NZ8150). Some rockets are designed to orbit the Earth for 156 years before re-entering the atmosphere as a shooting star.
The company has also offered moon "burials", in which capsules are carried on lunar mission spacecraft, for $NZ19,200.
Economic Development Minister Trevor Mallard, who attended yesterday's launch, said Rocket and Beck were visionaries in the spirit of Richard Pearse and Jean Batten.
"Our aviation industry could not have to where it is today without some blue-sky thinkers," Mallard.
"These two guys have decided to take us into the frontier."
Mallard said Rocket Lab would enhance New Zealand's emerging reputation as a developer of "first-rate" technology and components.
- Fairfax Media
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