This section includes a range of case studies that showcase New Zealand’s capabilities and contributions to the aerospace sector.
New Zealand pushing the boundaries of space launch
Space launch is one of the most iconic aspects of the space sector, from the early spaceflight programmes that saw humans reach orbit and make it to the moon to today’s routine flights to and from the International Space Station.
In 2017, New Zealand became the eleventh country with the capability to launch satellites into space and the first to launch from a fully private orbital launch range with Rocket Lab’s first launch of its Electron rocket from the Mahia Peninsula. Since then, Rocket Lab has completed more than 30 successful missions from Launch Complex 1 at Mahia.
New Zealand’s quiet airspace and maritime environment make safe launches easier, and the expansive Pacific Ocean to our east provides easy access to desirable orbits without flying over land.
Rocket Lab was founded in Auckland in 2006 by Peter Beck, and in 2009 the company launched its first test rocket from New Zealand, the Ātea-1.
Rocket Lab undertakes all its design work and most of its manufacturing in-house, in addition to managing its own launch site. This integration allows control over the full life cycle of the rocket, accelerating development timeframes. The company is aiming to create a “comprehensive space solution” spanning spacecraft manufacture, satellite subsystems, flight control software and ground operations, in addition to launch.
In June 2022, Rocket Lab launched the historic CAPSTONE mission in support of NASA’s Artemis Program, the first-ever lunar mission launched from New Zealand soil. CAPSTONE is a pathfinding mission launched to test the planned orbit for NASA’s planned Gateway space station which will orbit the moon. The launch was a significant milestone for Rocket Lab and is an excellent example of New Zealand’s ability to play an important role in leading projects with our international partners.
Rocket Lab is now working on developing procedures for recovery of its first stage booster, allowing the rocket body to be retrieved after launch and reused.
Rocket Lab is not the only company pushing the boundaries of space launch in New Zealand. Dawn Aerospace is another leading New Zealand aerospace company developing the technology needed to launch payloads to space. Unlike typical rockets that take off vertically from a launch pad, Dawn Aerospace is developing the Aurora spaceplane, which can take off and land horizontally alongside normal aircraft at an airport.
Dawn Aerospace has built the Mk-II (“Mark two”) Aurora subscale vehicle to demonstrate their core technology, which they envisage enabling multiple flights to space per day. This smaller vehicle is capable of hosting scientific experiments on board. The next iteration of the Aurora, the Mk-III (“Mark three”), will be significantly larger and capable of delivering 250 kg satellites to orbit.
Dawn Aerospace is expanding its operations following recent investment in its spaceplane development and satellite propulsion systems, offering new opportunities for New Zealanders to get involved in world-leading aerospace technology development.
New Zealand is set to continue to push the boundaries of space launch, developing novel approaches and playing an important role in key international projects.
Tāwhaki bringing together aerospace opportunities and environmental protection
How do you create a high-tech aerospace industry on a culturally significant landscape while protecting the planet for future generations?
The answer is Tāwhaki – a partnership between Te Taumutu Rūnanga and Wairewa Rūnanga (together as Kaitōrete Limited) and the Crown that is focused on dual kaupapa (principles) to:
- heal and rejuvenate the unique whenua (land), and
- advance Aotearoa’s aerospace industry.
Named after the demi-god Tāwhaki in Ngāi Tahu pūrākau (stories), the partnership owns and cares for 1000 hectares of land at Kaitōrete – a long stretch of land in the Canterbury region which separates Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) from the Pacific Ocean.
Kaitōrete is a significant cultural landscape renowned for its mahinga kai (customary food gathering practices), taonga (treasured) species and history. The area contains a variety of rare and threatened endemic species, including a majority of the surviving plants of the shrubby tororaro.
Kaitōrete ticks all the boxes for aerospace activity, meeting technical launch site criteria and with ample room for testing innovative prototypes and. It also has other key advantages – its clear skies, proximity to an internationally connected city, world-class universities and highly skilled workforce, as a result of the fast-developing aerospace sector in Canterbury.
Since the land was acquired in June 2021, Tāwhaki has received inquiries from a range of parties interested in both environmental rejuvenation and aerospace development. This includes local universities that produce highly capable engineering graduates, provide pathways to employment, and undertake research that could benefit the whenua and Te Waihora.
Canterbury was the first region in Aotearoa New Zealand to develop an aerospace sector plan to nurture the industry. Tāwhaki is supporting the region to advance this plan and to become a national centre of aerospace testing by 2025 to position Aotearoa New Zealand on the global stage.
Tāwhaki is taking a phased approach to aerospace activity and infrastructure development, with a focus on generating sustainable economic opportunities. A sustainable aerospace industry will enable future investment in the rejuvenation of Kaitōrete and the adjoining Te Waihora lake to restore its degraded environment.
The dual kaupapa of Tāwhaki are complementary and bring together mātauranga (traditional knowledge) and innovative technology to offer a more sustainable model for aerospace activities.
Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri a muri ake nei – For us and our children after us.
Read more about Tāwhaki here: Project Tāwhaki(external link)
New Zealand leading the way in advanced aircraft testing
The Wright Brothers achieved amazing feats for their day, even if their first flight lasted for only 12 seconds. Importantly, those 12 seconds were the result of a long and rigorous flight-testing programme.
Today, with Aotearoa New Zealand’s highly innovative aerospace sector proving its ability to create bespoke solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges, comprehensive testing and trialling of new technologies is as important as ever.
In July 2019, the Government released its drone integration paper ‘Taking Flight’, which sets out a vision to integrate drones and uncrewed aircraft into the current transport system to develop a thriving, innovative and safe advanced aviation sector.
Later that year, the Airspace Integration Trials Programme was established to position Aotearoa New Zealand as a location of choice for the safe development and testing of aerospace technologies and to develop our competitive advantage in this booming global sector.
Aotearoa New Zealand’s diverse geography, clear skies, low population density and the fact that it is surrounded by sea, along with a government and regulatory regime that enables innovation, makes it the ideal place for testing.
The Programme, centrally managed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, with Te Manatū Waka Ministry of Transport, the Civil Aviation Authority and Airways as programme partners and key stakeholders, seeks to attract industry partners representing a portfolio of uncrewed aircraft use cases.
The aim is to smooth the way for industry leaders to develop, test and bring to market new and unproven advanced uncrewed aircraft. The trials enable research and development for a range of use cases, including passenger transport, cargo delivery, agricultural services, and hazard management and monitoring.
The first industry partner to join the programme was Wisk. Wisk is an urban air-mobility company dedicated to delivering safe, everyday flight using its self-flying electric air taxi Cora, with a decade of experience and over 1000 test flights under its belt. In early 2020, the Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Wisk to support their world-first passenger transport trials in Canterbury. Wisk was looking for a location to test Cora, as well as a regulator and government that was agile and supported innovation. They found everything they needed right here in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Since then, eleven other companies have joined the programme: Aerosearch, Kea Aerospace, Envico Technologies, Aeronavics, Swoop Aero, Merlin Labs, Dawn Aerospace, Pyper Vision, OneReg, MAUI63 and AirShare.
The integration of advanced uncrewed aircraft, capable of carrying people, cargo or performing time-intensive, expensive or risky tasks, has the potential to deliver significant economic benefits to the economy, with estimates ranging from $1.2 billion – $7.9 billion in value over a 25-year period.
The next phase of the programme will see more industry partners begin their trials in Aotearoa New Zealand, increased collaboration within the sector, and testing of the supporting technologies required to enable uncrewed aircraft to operate safely and seamlessly alongside other aircraft and the wider transport system.
For more information on the Airspace Integration Trials Programme, visit the Airspace Integration Trials webpage: Airspace Integration Trials Programme(external link)
Government investing in aerospace research
The New Zealand Government has made significant investments in space research to develop capability in the New Zealand sector and strengthen our connections to international partnerships and networks.
In October 2018, MBIE and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) signed a Letter of Intent at the International Astronautical Congress to enable joint research collaborations focused on space systems, earth observation technologies and applications, transport technologies and energy technologies.
The New Zealand–DLR Joint Research Programme began in 2020 with a set of twelve feasibility studies to create the basis for longer-term strategic research in agreed thematic areas of propulsion, space communications and Synthetic Aperture Radar technologies.
Building on the success of these studies, MBIE and DLR agreed to jointly support a set of 8 research projects, with the New Zealand research teams receiving a total of $8 million. This funding is supporting the development of aerospace technology capability, establishing enduring research partnerships with Germany and jointly contributing to solving global economic, environmental, and social challenges.
In 2022, the Government also announced $9 million in funding for research partnerships with NASA. This funding will allow us to build on our existing space partnership with the United States, which was strengthened in 2021 when New Zealand joined the Artemis Accords being led by NASA. The Artemis Accords will guide international cooperation on space exploration, including supporting NASA’s Artemis program to return humans to the Moon by 2025, and then to explore Mars and beyond.
Government investment in aerospace research also extends to the advanced aviation sector, with $3 million in funding announced in 2022 for research projects under the Government’s Airspace Integration Trials Programme. Research undertaken within the programme will generate the evidence required to safely integrate uncrewed aircraft into New Zealand airspace.