New Zealand Launches First Rocket

by Nicholos Wethington on November 30, 2009

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

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