SOUTHLAND has become home to New Zealand’s first commercial low earth orbit satellite tracking antenna and plans for a new satellite ground station are under way.
Owned by Great South and dubbed Great South – 1, the antenna opening was held at Awarua Satellite Ground Station and attended by station staff, contractors, Labour MP Rino Tirikatene and Invercargill Labour list MP Liz Craig on Monday.
While Mr Tirikatene cut the ceremonial ribbon, Dr Craig said space was a central part of diversifying the economy.
“I think satellite technology, particularly even down to looking at our farming level, this is going to be essential to a lot of the things we’re doing here in Southland.”
Great South engineering and ground segment station manager Robin McNeill said with its establishment, the Awarua facility would likely generate about $1 million in revenue for Southland’s regional development agency.
“We’ve been tracking the sun and other things with the antenna so far but there’s just a bit more to do before it’s completely ready.”
The antenna had two functions talk to the satellite and tell it what to do, and to download data, from optical images to radiation measurements, to the station’s systems.
An “up-linking and down-linking” data transferring system, the antenna provided real-time communication with satellites for customers in New Zealand and around the world.
“It is no surprise then that the antenna is already heavily booked by overseas space operators.
Mr McNeill also announced the agency would be building a new ground station facility in Northland.
“While our customers love our world-class facility here in Southland, a second station in the far North means we will be able to communicate with spacecraft 1200 kilometres further into the Pacific Ocean – something that is important for some satellite uses.”
The Awarua antenna was capable of supporting New Zealand’s upcoming MethaneSAT satellite, a state-of-the-art satellite designed to detect global methane emissions, and used advanced control systems developed by researchers at the University of Canterbury.
The nearby Great South – A antenna would support the University of Auckland’s APSS-1 satellite scheduled on an upcoming Rocket Lab launch.
Great South – 1 was expected to be fully operational in about a month.