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Kiwi space dreams coming true

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 28 August 2018, 2:20 pm

Is it now possible for Kiwi kids to grow up knowing they can work in the space industry? Until very recently, it was probably something you had to acquire a different citizenship to achieve. But the announcement this week that students can apply for NASA internships is another example of how astronautical careers are becoming more accessible to New Zealand passport holders.

Economic Development Minister David Parker says under an agreement between the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and NASA, New Zealand tertiary students can apply to participate in NASA's International Internships Programme.

"Through the programme, high-achieving students will have the opportunity to work in NASA's best and most advanced research facilities, with access to expert mentors. The experience could inspire someone to begin the journey to becoming an astronaut or to follow in the footsteps of great Kiwi scientist Sir William Pickering who led the successful effort to put the first US satellite in orbit," Parker says.

Aside from providing four clever students with the opportunity to hang out at NASA next year, Parker says the agreement strengthens the country's connection with global space networks and raises our profile as a location for space activities.

"New Zealand is well-positioned to become a hub for new space activities with its highly-skilled workforce and expertise in physics, energy, engineering and computer science research."

Driven by the establishment of Rocket Labs, which has built a launch pad in Mahia on the East Coast, MBIE has been busy creating the necessary legal settings for a space industry in this country.

According to information on MBIE's website, the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act 2017 was passed into law in July last year and came into effect in December 2017. It regulates launches into outer space, launch facilities, high altitude vehicles (HAVs) and payloads, through licences or permits. The process is administered by the New Zealand Space Agency within MBIE.

When it comes to the space industry it seems the old 'tyranny of distance' works in our favour, with the MBIE site noting New Zealand's remote location provides advantages such as clear skies and seas, and relatively low levels of air traffic.

Keen to attract more space entrepreneurs, researchers and investors, the MBIE site promotes a number of initiatives including the Centre for Space Science and Technology (CSST), which helps New Zealand businesses to access space-based data to develop satellite data products and solutions. Based in Alexandra, CSST is about a year old and its inaugural CEO is Steve Cotter, who was previously Chief Executive of GÉANT, the pan-European Research and Education Network serving nearly 50 million users based in the Netherlands. Prior to that Cotter was CEO of REANNZ.

There is also MBIE's role in leading New Zealand's involvement in the international effort to build the world's largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array. Last time I checked in New Zealand was considering becoming an associate member to ensure our scientists remain involved in the global project.

What's exciting about these initiatives is that New Zealand is not just lending it's remote location, it's also working hard on providing its own smarts. 


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