Space centre plan getting off ground

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BY YVONNE O’HARA

The Alexandra-based Centre for Space Science Technology (CSST) implementation group is hoping to sign a contract with Government funders this week, group member Gary Kelliher, of Alexandra, says.

Mr Kelliher said the group would then begin to work on establishing the institute’s overseeing charitable trust and governing board, which involved recruiting up to six trustees, six directors, a chief executive and about 30 to 40 full-time-equivalent personnel, including scientists, information technology experts and support staff.

The group expected the centre’s new office in Alexandra would open in six months.

A proposal to establish the centre was submitted to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) by the CSST steering group, which included Bodeker Scientific scientist Dr Greg Bodeker and Mr Kelliher, last year.

The group was granted about $15million (as well as co-funding) over three and a-half years to establish the institute in Alexandra.

Other offices will be based in Dunedin, New Plymouth and Lincoln.

Central Otago District Council economic development manager Warwick Hawker lauded the project.

“Although it is going to be based here in Central Otago, the benefits are going to be nationwide,” Mr Hawker said.

“It will evolve and it is really interesting when you start looking at the potential benefits.”

The centre would be home to personnel working on a range of different projects and who could be linked to their counterparts all over the world, he said.

The centre will collect and broker data from satellites. Data will be sent on on to businesses, regional councils, Crown research institutes and other agencies throughout New Zealand, which will then use it to develop or enhance their own technology and products for on-sale to consumers.

“We will create the know-how and the industry will run with the products and link to end users,” Mr Kelliher said.

The centre would also develop its own products, and enhance existing ones in conjunction with other businesses.

It would also have its own satellite launch programme, sending up CubeSats (very small satellites), which would be placed to provide coverage tailored to New Zealand’s requirements, while continuing to use overseas satellites as it would have to do initially.

The CSST would earn its income from royalties and commissions and the group hoped it would be self-sustaining within three and a-half years.

The centre’s scientists’ work programmes would include developing technology to provide accurate and wide-ranging soil moisture measurements on flat and hill country properties for irrigation and fertiliser applications. The technology would also allow it to analyse fire risks and measure plant health, growth patterns, density and volume for orchardists and forestry companies, and even measure snow density for skifields, Mr Kelliher said.

Farmers could have continual and improved access to space-generated data to enable more efficient irrigation on different soil types, crop yield maximisation, better imagery and the gathering of daily information about their crops.

“The application possibilities are endless,” Mr Kelliher said.

Mr Hawker said the centre would be able to provide hydro data, oceanic information about fish, pollution and ocean temperatures; support Antarctic programmes; and provide up-to-the minute information and imagery to determine civil defence emergencies.

“It would have been really useful when they had flooding in South Dunedin,” Mr Hawker said.

“The satellites will have the capability to provide emergency response communication.”

Mr Kelliher said the implementation group would be asking for expressions of interest from people who wished to be trust or board members, and would be advertising internationally for a chief executive.

He and other group members had been talking to groups, organisations and individuals to determine what other possible applications could be developed.

“We have done a lot of work coming up with potential uses and products, and are now extending the outreach to industry,” he said.

Mr Kelliher is keen to hear from anyone who had further ideas about potential uses for the satellite data. He can be contacted on 027 284-5890.