Bubbly ending to Awarua space mission

HANNAH MCLEOD
Last updated 05:00 31/07/2014

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Southland's involvement in the final Ariane mission ended with a pop.

The men working from the Awarua Satellite Ground station celebrated the final mission with a bottle of champagne.

Five empty bottles sat on top of the microwave in the little base, one each for the opening of the station and the four missions before yesterday's finale, while the five corks with the date of each milestone written on the bottom sat on the whiteboard.

Venture Southland enterprise projects manager Robin McNeill said yesterday's mission went perfectly from start to finish.

The Ariane 5 rocket with an automated transfer vehicle (ATV) was launched from the European Space Agency's international space port at Kourou, French Guiana in South America.

The three technicians who have been based at Awarua for two months were tasked with tracking the rocket's trajectory as it travelled south of Bluff at a height of about 300km.

The ATV detached from the rocket as it passed over Bluff, and would stay in orbit for about a week before attaching to the International Space Station and delivering 2.2 tonnes of equipment to the cosmonauts based there.

McNeill said clothes, food and technical equipment would be included in the delivery, as well as a whopping 50kg of coffee.

Once unpacked, the ATV would be filled with rubbish before detaching from the space station.

It would descend toward earth in a 'controlled re-entry', but burn up on the way so very little re-entered the earth's atmosphere.

"It becomes the world's most expensive incinerator," McNeill said.

Despite Ariane 5 being the last rocket launch to be tracked at the Awarua station for some time, there was ongoing work with earth observation download stations, and plans to install a navigation satellite calibration system which would feed data to the European Space Agency's German operations centre, he said.

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