Awarua station tracks supply rocket

20:09, Jun 06 2013
Space Southland
SKY HIGH: Venture Southland engineer Robin McNeill with the satellite dish that tracked the rocket as it passed over Southland.

A rocket bound for the International Space Station blasted over Southland yesterday - and it was "perfect", space experts say.

Awarua Tracking Station tracked an Ariane 5 rocket that was launched from a base in South America to transport supplies to six people at the space station.

In the tracking room, four engineers checked signals on computer screens that showed details about the rocket such as its distance from Earth, speed, temperature and pressure.

The signals also showed that the automatic transfer vehicle (ATV), which carries the supplies, had separated from the rocket.

Venture Southland satellite dish master Robin McNeill said the separation of the ATV was the most "critical" part of the mission and was scheduled to happen over Southland on its first pass.

The Southland space team was a "little bit on edge" before the launch but happy when everything went smoothly.

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"There's always potential for something to go wrong.

"You don't get a second chance if it goes wrong - there's only a certain amount of fuel," he said.

Liftoff and the separation of the ATV from the rocket were "perfect".

It made its way over Southland for a second time about an hour after its initial pass at 11am.

The rocket, 300 kilometres high, was travelling at a speed of 7.4km a second as it came over Southland - fast enough to get from Awarua to Winton in three seconds.

People could look up future visibility online and possibly catch a glimpse of the ATV tagging along behind the space station in coming days, he said.

The International Space Station, including its aerials and large solar panels, is about the size of a rugby field.

Telemetry technician Herman Steenkamp said both the pass and the tracking were perfect.

"It's ideal; you couldn't have it any better than that."

Mr Steenkamp said it was good to know that all the long hours and hard work he had put into tracking the Ariane 5 rocket had paid off.

The supplies were expected to reach the space station in about five days, he said.

The Southland Times