New Zealand has trumped Australia in the space race, with a spaceflight start-up successfully launching a rocket from its own launch pad on the North Island.
The launch, in the Mahia Peninsula, has been marketed as a major advance in the space industry that will allow smaller companies to launch satellites in to space at a relative fraction of the cost.
“Space is now open for business,” the American-New Zealand company Rocket Lab said.
Though the launch was only a test, Rocket Lab managed to launch three satellites into orbit for tracking shipping, weather and imaging.
It has been able to lower the cost of rocket launches because the payload is now much smaller than it was in the past.
Rocket Lab said it would be launching every week at a relatively cheap $US4.9 million a pop.
“Rocket Lab is a small start-up, a few people and a dream— it really shows what can happen in the modern day space area,” Australian National University astrophysicist Brad Tucker said.
Professor Tucker said it was no longer necessary to be a big government agency with a huge bankroll to pull off such a launch.
“We should applaud our neighbour’s efforts for being visionary, and really pursuing something that they didn’t think was possible 10 years ago,” he said.
“Now they’re amongst the competitors in the world market.”
Australia ‘not far behind’
Michael Davis, chair of the Space Industry Association of Australia, said within the business models pursued by satellite companies there had been a “big revolution”.
“Instead of paying hundreds of millions for a very big satellite in geostationary orbit, we now have new constellations of smaller — what we call nano satellites — in low earth orbit at much lower cost,” he said.
Unlike big companies like Elon Musk’s Space X, which use government launch sites, Rocket Labs said it was the first company to launch its own rocket from its own launch pad.
There are similar plans afoot in Australia, with a launch site allocated in the Northern Territory and tests expected in a year.
Mr Davis said Australia has other economic advantages in the space industry.
“It is possible that Australia will be a participant in the commercial launch business,” he said.
“But there are still plenty of economic benefits around the actual development of satellites and even greater benefits around the use of satellite data.
“And and it’s around those areas of activity that we believe Australia has a very strong commercial future in developing our industry and creating jobs.”