Great South’s space arm becomes standalone firm

Space Operations New Zealand chief executive Robin McNeill at Awarua Ground Station. Photo: Dave Allen, Niwa

GREAT South’s successful space operations business has grown to the extent it has become a stand-alone company, Space Operations New Zealand Ltd.

It is an exciting development for the business, which has undergone exponential growth in recent years, with increasing demand from international small satellite companies for its commercial and civilian ground station services and launch support services at Awarua, near Bluff.

Space Operations New Zealand chief executive Robin McNeill said Awarua had gone from hosting 24 antennas before Covid-19 hit, to 35, and by the middle of next year, there would be 42 on site.

“We will have at least five new antennas installed before the end of this year and we continue to field inquiries from companies in this rapidly growing global sector,” he said.

Space Operations New Zealand owns its own antennas, which are leased to satellite operators. It is building another to keep up with demand.

It also provides down-range support for international launch companies, including Rocket Lab.

Southland has had an active role in the space community since 2004, when the Awarua Satellite Ground Station was established in conjunction with the European and French space agencies.

It is New Zealand’s only commercial low earth orbit satellite ground station, where data is downloaded from satellites and spacecraft are commanded.

“Essentially, without us you’ve got a flying brick.”

The satellites have a range of purposes, including tracking shipping containers, measuring the atmosphere, imaging the earth, calibrating satellite navigation systems and providing internet services.

Future opportunities for the company include building further ground station sites in New Zealand and potentially internationally.

Southland is ideally located for satellite ground stations, given its proximity to the South Pole, flat land with excellent horizon sightlines and lack of radio interference.

Space Operations New Zealand is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Great South, Southland’s regional development agency.

The company has five engineers on staff, including two postgraduate students from the University of Canterbury.