New Zealand Launches First Rocket

by Nicholos Wethington on November 30, 2009

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The first rocket launched by a private space company from New Zealand was attended by a crowd of about 50 spectators. Image Credit: Waikato TimesToday was a proud day in the history of New Zealand, marking the first ever home-grown rocket launch from the island. The private space company Rocket Lab, Ltd launched their Atea-1 rocket to a height of over 100 km at 2:28pm (NZST). The launch took place at Great Mercury Island, just off the coast of the North Island, and is a first for the company as well as the country.

Rocket Lab, Ltd was formed three years ago with the hopes of developing a rocket that would make space more accessible. The Atea-1 rocket has a small payload capacity, 2kg (4.4lbs). This first test of the rocket had a payload that recorded how well the engine burned during the 22-second firing, as well as a GPS locator for recovery. As of this writing, the 1st stage booster section was recovered, but the company is still looking for the payload stage.

The target of the launch was 50km (31miles) northeast of Great Mercury Island, and the team hopes to recover the second stage within the next two days so as to analyze the measurements taken on how well the test flight went.

The launch was initially scheduled for 7:10am, but a number of technical issues delayed the flight until the afternoon. A section of aerocoupler, which connects the fuel line to the rocket, froze up, which stuck the rocket in place on its pad. A helicopter was dispatched to Whitianga on the North Island to pick up another coupler from an engineering supplier.

After almost scrubbing the launch three times, emptying the rocket and refueling it, the team was ready to go at 2:30. The 6meter (20 foot) long rocket was launched above the Karman line, 100 km (62 miles) above the Earth, making this an official flight into space.

Atea is the Maori word for space, and this specific rocket was named Manu Karere – meaning ‘bird messenger’ – by the local Thames iwi. Rocket Lab founder, Mark Stevens (who legally changed his name to Mark Rocket about seven years ago) told the Waikato Times, “The last six months have been a terrific amount of work. The tech team has put in a massive effort. It’s not trivial sending something into space. This is a huge technological leap for New Zealand.”

The video interview of Mark Stevens and Peter Beck embedded below is courtesy of the New Zealand Herald.

Rocket Lab has produced a number of products for the aerospace industry, including separation systems, rocket fuel and software. The company is completely privately funded.

This isn’t the first rocket to be launched from the island. That distinction belongs to a rocket that was imported in 1963 by the Cantrbury University physics department to conduct upper atmospheric research in collaboration with the Royal New Zealand Air Force. That rocket only went to 75km (46 miles), making Atea-1 the first ever rocket to be launched into space, and adding New Zealand and Rocket Lab to the ever-lengthening list of space-faring enterprises.

Source: Waikato Times

Astrofiend November 30, 2009 at 8:55 PM

Mark Rocket? Who changes their last name to rocket?!

Maybe I’ll have to change my name to Craig Telescope.

GekkoNZ November 30, 2009 at 9:47 PM

Not only is this rocket launch the first privately launched rocket in NZ to reach space, its also the first in the Southern Hemisphere.

“Who changes their last name to rocket?!”

Ummm……….Mark Stevens?

Nicholos Wethington November 30, 2009 at 10:01 PM

I think I’m going to go with Nick Quasar. :)

Hon. Salacious B. Crumb December 1, 2009 at 9:06 PM

“Not only is this rocket launch the first privately launched rocket in NZ to reach space, its also the first in the Southern Hemisphere.”

Absolute Bull. Australia has launched rockets from Woomera (South Australia) in the 1950s. To suggest NZ is at the heart of rocketry is a bit of misnomer. Were it serious about aeronautics and space, it would be developing rocketry much closer to the equator.

See http://www.woomera.com.au/history.htm

Hon. Salacious B. Crumb December 1, 2009 at 9:26 PM

Also to quote, Wiki on Woomera…

“Although many sounding rockets were launched from Woomera, only two satellites were launched there successfully. These satellites were the British satellite Prospero in 1971 and the Australian WREsat in 1967.”

Also the;

“The HiFIRE and JAXA hypersonics programs launch to around 330 km or about twice the altitude of the International Space Station. ” These were I think privately funded.

As for the statement;

“That rocket only went to 75km (46 miles), making Atea-1 the first ever rocket to be launched into space, and adding New Zealand and Rocket Lab to the ever-lengthening list of space-faring enterprises.”

This is not only wrong it is grossly misleading.

Really The first rocket to be launched an GO INTO ORBIT was Sputnik on 4th Octiber 1957 using a R7 ICBM rocket. (isn’t that before 1963 ??) The first sub-orbit unmanned launch was on 20th August 1953, which reached higher than this NZ one.

Again New Zealanders big noting themselves. Hell, even Iran North Korea has done better!

Hon. Salacious B. Crumb December 1, 2009 at 9:46 PM

Manu Karere is wrongly used.

It should be named Manu Hamuti – coming from the other end of the bird (just like this hyped story!)

Chrisn December 1, 2009 at 11:12 PM

Salacious B. Crumb:

You are taking the whole article completely out of context.

Its obvious in the exact paragraph you quoted that the journalist has recognized the fact New Zealand is adding itself to a list of other space-faring enterprises.

Please find some sources about any Woomera space launches being privately (100%?) funded, I am as interested as you are.

tek_604 December 2, 2009 at 1:17 AM

While it is true that rockets were launched from Woomera in South Australia, as I understand it, the rockets launched there were at least mostly, if not totally, a British project.

I always remember a quote from the wiki article on the British Space Program: “The UK is the only nation to have successfully developed a launch system, and then give up on it.”

This is typical British government policy, and has been since the late 60s.

Azaka December 3, 2009 at 2:20 AM

Hi from New Zealand, this launch has got more TV time here than the chinese ones or the last few shuttle flights, sadly so far they have not found the nose cone, now Tyra Banks is coming over and thats the new news!
It was a solid fuled and they showed some of it, and they were happy with a 22 second burn on the first stage.
Theres another guy making a V1 sort of thing in his garage and they say it wil be a cruise misslie sort of thing.

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