First NZ space rocket ready for blast off
Monday November 16 2009 - 12:10pm
Just half a century after it began, New Zealand is set to enter the space race.
In the week beginning November 30 (subject to weather), Rocket Lab’s Atea-1 “launch vehicle” (what most of us would call a rocket) is due to blast off, carrying a payload 120km into the heavens (space starts at 100km up; the international space station orbits at around 320km above us). Atea-1 will become the first privately-funded rocket to launch from the Southern Hemisphere.
After reaching 120km, Atea-1 - and its payload - will arc back to Earth. As its payload won't be placed into orbit, Rocket Lab pitches its launch vehicle as suitable for any scientific kit that needs to take a "sounding" in (brief) low orbit, micogravity conditions.
Compared to past and present US and Russian behemoths, Atea-1 is a tiddler - just 150mm wide and 6m tall. And its payload is restricted to a modest 2kg (compared to the Space Shuttle's 22,700kg). But Rocket Lab's chief executive Peter Beck told NBR that’s all the capacity his company needs for commercially successful launches (although larger rockets are planned).
Each launch will cost a mere $50,000 to $100,000 - barely enough to buy a drinks holder for a Space Shuttle mission. The launch will take place on Great Mercury Island, east of the Coromandel.