Home' Advocate Communications : Advocate South 15 November 2018 Contents Centennial
Armistice Day had double the significance for the
Winton RSA which used the occasion to also celebrate
long-time member Tom Johnstone’s 100th birthday.
This week private Kiwi-
American company Rocket Lab
made headlines for its first fully
commercial launch out of
But behind the scenes, that
launch got technical support from
Venture Southland, which over the
last eight years has been growing a
business to support certain kinds of
rocket and satellite launches
In fact Rocket Lab is only one of
several international clients Venture
will be working with this summer.
Ground segment and
engineering manager Robin McNeill
said its Awarua ground station,
for example, located between
Invercargill and Bluff, had a strategic
location on the world stage.
“We’re as close and as East as
you can get without running out of
land to have antennas, that makes
[Southland] really important.”
In a case like the Rocket Lab
launch, Mr McNeill explained
that the rocket, or “launcher”,
transmits data about its systems
and location down to what’s called
a ground station.
That information goes back to
the mission control through the
internet so that they can get a good
systems status of the rocket.
The idea for the Awarua ground
station emerged in 2004 when the
European Space Agency contacted
Venture Southland to see if it could
help build a ground station in the
area. Essentially it wanted to send
the space equivalent of a 20-tonne
cargo truck, called an ATV, to the
International Space Station (ISS) and
the deep south was a key location
in supporting the effort.
Over the next four years, Venture
Southland collaborated with the
European Space Agency and the
French Space Agency to build
the Awarua site, which helped to
support five ATV launches to the
Mr McNeill said it was through
that work that Venture connected
with Invercargill’s own Peter Beck
of Rocket Lab. Mr Beck introduced
them to some of his customers,
which got the ball rolling, and it
hasn’t stopped since.
“As soon as we got working into
it and people from Europe started
ringing us up and
emailing me, we
we had something
isn’t just helping
attempted to secure
funding from the
last government to
create a research
centre that could
have provided Kiwi
farmers with real-time information
about their pastures.
“Using the right satellites with the
right images and the right software,
a farmer can tell how much dry
matter feed is his pastures much
more accurately from low-earth
orbit, basically 400-600 kilometres
up in space, than if he spent four
hours doing a plate measurement
on his farm each week.”
While they didn’t win that bid,
Mr McNeill said Venture was now
pursuing Provincial Growth Fund
money to do something similar.
To be clear, rockets have not
been launching from Southland,
however that is soon to change.
In December, Venture Southland
will team up with the University
of Canterbury to launch research
rockets from Northern Southland.
While the area was a good
choice for its airspace, Mr McNeill
said the choice to launch in
Southland also came down to
“They like working with us.
The whole space thing works a lot
That not only applied to the
University of Canterbury, but their
relationships with agencies around
“When you’ve got millions of
dollars worth of stuff, you want
something built on the other side
of the world, you’ve got to trust the
people you work with.
friendly and helpful and trustworthy
and competent. Everyone
From Southland to the stars
Venture Southland engineering projects and ground segment station manager Robin
McNeill at the Awarua Satellite Ground Station.
PHOTO: Dave Allen/NIWA
A strategic location paired with southern friendliness is adding
momentum to the immense potential of Southland’s homegrown
By Claire Kaplan
15 NOVEMBER, 2018
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