Kiwi Innovation Reaches New Heights
by Michael Cook
The successful launch of the Rocket Lab "Atea-1" rocket on November 30th was a great testimony to Kiwi innovation and perseverance. Right up to the last minute of the delayed take-off, the atmosphere of excitement and suspense was maintained for media and supporters as a few "technical-hitches" were sorted out.
Of special interest to us is the on-board avionics (control, data logger and satellite telemetry) system. We know only too well that having to design and build gear that can endure severe acceleration, temperature and pressure changes pushes technology to the limit. There is no room for failure once the launch sequence is initiated! The other major factor in rocket design is an absolute focus on weight reduction. Every unnecessary gram limits the maximum altitude achievable. This makes, for example the choice of battery paramount to maximise life against weight.
Working on a shoe string budget over several years, the small team pulled off what is an incredibly difficult feat for those who do not have access to the resources of big aerospace business or government. Over the years, Rocket Labs has developed some cutting-edge technology that has generated interest from around the world. Specialised ablative coatings and improved rocket fuels have been spin-offs. However, their technology road map has a common goal of lowering cost and providing environmentally friendly solutions to give science and industry access to sub-orbital space.
Although the Rocket Lab team appear to be the ultimate "geeks" who are passionate about rocket science and things that go bang, they are commercially astute and very keen to promote NZ as a centre of innovation and excellence. They have proved that with enough passion, enthusiasm and the right connections it is possible to achieve breakthrough and get the attention of the "big guys".
As another small NZ company involved in rapidly changing technology in a global environment, we salute Rocket Lab and look forward to following the progress of what is already a very unique and interesting company.
- Michael Cook