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New Zealand space launch sharpens tourism potential

January 23, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

New Zealand’s successful launch of a space rocket from the North Island on Sunday, placing three satellites in orbit and paving the way for a long series of similar launches, will boost the country’s appeal to tourists interested in aviation and space flight.

As aviation buffs know, New Zealand offers some fabulous air shows. Additionally, NASA already uses Wanaka Airport in the South Island as a launch pad and now satellites are being placed in orbit from Mahia Peninsula in the North Island, eclipsing anything Australia is doing in the field.

Rocket Lab, which launched the three satellites into orbit from Mahia Peninsula on Sunday (for tracking shipping, weather and imaging), aims to conduct launches every week.

Blast off! Electron rocket heads for space

“Following successful first and second stage burns, Electron reached orbit and deployed customer payloads at 8 minutes and 31 seconds after lift-off,” Rocket Lab chief executive and founder Peter Beck confirmed on Sunday.

“Today marks the beginning of a new era in commercial access to space. We’re thrilled to reach this milestone so quickly after our first test launch. Our incredibly dedicated and talented team have worked tirelessly to develop, build and launch Electron. I’m immensely proud of what they have achieved today.

NASA balloon launch from South Island

“Reaching orbit on a second test flight is significant on its own, but successfully deploying customer payloads so early in a new rocket program is almost unprecedented. Rocket Lab was founded on the principal of opening access to space to better understand our planet and improve life on it. Today we took a significant step towards that.”

Rocket Lab currently has five Electron vehicles in production, with the next launch expected to take place soon.  At full production, Rocket Lab expects to launch more than 50 times a year. It says it is authorised to launch up to 120 times a year, more than any other commercial or government launch provider in history.

Rocket Lab Electron rocket stands ready

The launch pad at Mahia Peninsula is located at the far northeastern end of Hawke’s Bay. The seaside Art Deco city of Napier, a popular tourist attraction, lies across the bay at the southern end. The launches sound like a fantastic spectacle for tourists to watch, perhaps from cruise boats – we shall see!

NASA, the government agency responsible for the US civilian space program as well as aeronautics and aerospace research, confirmed last year it would use Wanaka Airport in New Zealand’s South Island as one of its global launch bases – for the next decade.

The launches will not be rockets, however, but super-pressure balloons. The 532,000 cubic-metre super-pressure balloon ascend to an altitude of 110,000 feet (33.5 kilometres above the earth) where the stratospheric winds propel it on a high speed journeys around the southern hemisphere.

Rocket Lab launchpad

On the air show and aviation front, New Zealand’s renowned Warbirds over Wanaka International Airshow will this March celebrate 30 years of spectacles in the sky.

One of the world’s best-loved aviation festivals, Warbirds over Wanaka was established by Sir Tim Wallis, a live deer recovery pilot looking for a way to showcase his private collection of WWII aircraft.

Rocket ready for launch

The biennial event is held in even-numbered years at Easter (this year 30 March – 1 April, 2018), attracting up to 50,000 aviation fans. Wanaka is arguably one of New Zealand’s most picturesque regions, framed by dramatic alpine scenery.

For the air show, roads are closed and visitors come from near and far, while Wanaka Airport buzzes with every type of aircraft.

Warbirds over Wanaka

Written by Peter Needham

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