Punching above our extra-terrestrial weight: Marcal Sanmarti discusses New Zealand's response to the new space race.

In the September-October 2020 issue of this journal (vol 45, no 5), we saw how many countries and private corporations are getting involved in a new space race. Reusable rockets have revolutionised access to space, slashing costs of delivery to and from the stratosphere. Following American private corporations, the Russian space agency Roscosmos has recently announced that in its Amur programme it will soon use reusable rockets. (1) New Zealand is no exception. Rocket Lab is reusing part of its Electron launch vehicles. We all know that New Zealand, with a population of just 5 million, has a tradition of punching above its weight. This country is a primary industries powerhouse, probably hosts the best known and most successful rugby team on the planet and is seen internationally as a champion in the fight against Covid-19. New Zealand is also rather successful in the commercial space sector--quite ironic considering that locals refer to themselves as kiwis, the name of a local flightless bird.

The New Zealand space sector model is in fact quite unique because it is mostly based on commercial space. It is New Space-driven, characterised by a mix of start-up and well-established small and large entrepreneur-driven and privately-funded space companies, which service both government and non-government customers. New Space is in contrast to traditional space economies where large-scale government activity has been a major driver (as in the United States or Russia). This model draws on local as well as international talent, and has strong connections with the global space sector.

Rocket Lab, with its 3D printed rockets and its aim to launch a private mission to Venus by 2023, might just be New Zealand's best-known space company, but it has been joined by many others. In fact, space-related activities are well spread all over the national geography. In Auckland the 12-metre Warkworth Radio Telescope is engaged in large international research activities. Close to Ahuriri Point at the southern tip of the Mahia peninsula on the east coast of the North Island, we can find Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1, a commercial spaceport. In Wellington is the New Zealand Space Agency at the headquarters of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). Christchurch has a whole hub of commercial space companies with names like Dawn Aerospace or Fabrum Solutions. In Alexandra, Central Otago, the Xerra Earth Observation Institute is helping drive regional economic growth by enabling access to existing and new satellite and other Earth observation data.

Also, there are plenty of astronomical- and space-related societies all around the country: from the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand, founded in 1920, to the KiwiSpace Foundation, a portal willing to push beyond the local space industry. The country even has a Mars Society New Zealand, a charitable trust that supports education about Mars with a focus on astrobiology. The University of Otago has an ambitious space physics research group with researchers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Hungary, France and Australia. The University of Auckland has a well-established Space Institute carrying out applied research in space science, engineering and applications of space data, as well as running educational activities to shape the next generation of scientists and engineers in New Zealand.

New Zealand is one of the few countries that not only manufactures rockets but also uses space-derived data for innovative applications and fosters research expertise on space all around the country. According to a 2019 Deloitte report on New Zealand's space sector, the space sector contributed NZ$1.69 billion to the New Zealand economy. This sector directly supports an estimated 5000 full-time equivalent roles. Total employment, including indirect effects, is 12,000 full-time equivalent jobs. (2) These...

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