Southland shoots into orbit as a space base

Last updated 05:00 29/07/2014
Robin McNeill and Leon Korkie
NICOLE JOHNSTONE/Fairfax NZ
SWITCHED ON: Venture Southland enterprise projects manager Robin McNeill and Awarua Ground Satellite Station technician Leon Korkie inspect the machinery for the Ariane 5 ATV launch.

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Southland's role in an international space project will come to an end with the final lift-off of the region's first foray into space.

The region has played an important role in the European Space Agency's Ariane 5 ATV space missions and the fifth and final launch is scheduled for tomorrow.

Venture Southland enterprise projects manager Robin McNeill said while the launch would signal the end of the Ariane 5 space mission, Southland's reputation as a hub for international space projects was assured.

The Ariane 5 project had given the Awarua station, south of Invercargill, the profile nationally and internationally to win other space and satellite earth observation contracts.

The site now also hosted one of California-based company Planet Labs' two earth observation download stations.

"This is part the company's plan to capture high-resolution images of the entire planet each day," McNeill said.

"The images produced could have any number of applications - including helping forestry companies better monitor their assets."

Several other new projects were also under negotiation for the Awarua site, he said.

McNeill said more than $1m had been pumped into the region through the space projects since the Ariane 5 ATV programme began in 2008.

This included work for Southland engineering and construction firms.

"We're still working with the ESA. We're currently preparing to install a navigation satellite calibration system for their Space Operations Centre in Germany," he said.

The data from this system would also be used by several organisations including the University of Otago Surveying School to help monitor ground movement.

Southland was an ideal location because of southerly aspect, low radio noise and unobstructed horizon, McNeill said.

"We've got a reputation for getting things done and built to a high standard, and being flexible - such as when we needed to change radio frequencies of local radio users to accommodate Planet Labs."

The final launch was originally planned for July 25 but was delayed because of a minor technical issue. The launch will take place at 11.47am on Wednesday and the spacecraft will pass Bluff at 12.59pm. 

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- The Southland Times

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