New Zealand’s first official space mission announces ‘mission control’

  • Hon Dr Megan Woods

New Zealand’s first government funded space mission has taken a ‘giant leap’ with Auckland University’s Te Pūnaha Ātea-Auckland Space Institute announced as the permanent host of the New Zealand based mission control centre for a global methane tracking satellite.

“MethaneSAT is a really exciting opportunity to showcase New Zealand’s science and research expertise on the world stage, while making a significant contribution to climate change by mapping agricultural emissions of greenhouse gases. It’s great to see Auckland University, with the help of Rocket Lab, playing such a key role” says Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods.

Mission Operations Control Centre (MOCC) for the mission will be managed by Rocket Lab. Once it is running smoothly, it will be transferred to Te Pūnaha Ātea-Auckland Space Institute as the host.

“This international partnership will accelerate our capability in our rapidly growing space sector, increase our reputation for future space missions and provide vital data to support our own climate change policy,” Megan Woods said.

“The mission will see the New Zealand Space Agency partner with one of the world’s leading environmental NGOs, The Environmental Defense Fund, which will also include a team of leading New Zealand atmospheric science and remote sensing researchers led by NIWA’s Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher,” Megan Woods said.

In addition to its agricultural emissions research, the New Zealand science team will work with the US based science team that’s leading the mission’s science on methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. The US team is led by the University of Harvard in close partnership with The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Background for editors:

In 2019, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) signed a partnership agreement with United States-based environmental organisation, the Environmental Defence Fund (EDF) and its subsidiary, MethaneSAT LLC to enable New Zealand to participate in the mission.

MethaneSAT is a state-of-the-art satellite designed to detect global methane emissions with unprecedented accuracy. The MethaneSAT satellite is unique because it can measure over a large area and focus on specific targets.

In November 2019, the government announced that it will collaborate with the Environmental Defense Fund on the MethanSAT mission. This included a $26 million investment, made up of:

• $18 million investment in a Mission Operations and Control Centre, funding from the Strategic Science Investment Fund.

• $6 million over four years Atmospheric Sciences Programme, funded from Catalyst: Strategic

MethanSAT is expected to be launched in late 2022.

Mission Operations and Control Centre

Rocket Lab will initially establish and operate the Mission Operations and Control Centre, for approximately the first 12 months of the mission.

University of Auckland’s Te Pūnaha Ātea-Auckland Space Institute will then take over the hosting of the Mission Operations and Control Centre. Rocket Lab will work closely with the University of Auckland during the transition, and will provide post-handover consultation to the university if required.

University of Auckland was chosen as the New Zealand host of the MOCC following a Call for Proposals.

Atmospheric science programme

Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher of NIWA will lead the New Zealand-based science team using the satellite’s data to better understand agricultural methane emissions. Dr Mikaloff-Fletcher has built a multi-institution, multi-discipline research team comprising some of New Zealand’s strongest expertise in atmospheric science and remote sensing.

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