Kiwi space scientists are playing a key role in the fist commercial space mission.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 7.44pm (NZT) last night, carrying the Dragon spacecraft destined for the International Space Station orbiting 400km above the earth. The Dragon is carrying a two and a half tone payload of food, water and equipment for the 6 man crew of the space station.
AUT’s Institute of Radio Astronomy and Space Research (IRASR) has been contracted by private company SpaceX to monitor the rocket and spacecraft from a radio astronomy observatory north of Auckland. Radio telescopes at the observatory will track the spacecraft and translate critical operating data between it and its operational headquarters throughout the flight.
The researchers from AUT will also play a critical role in monitoring the Dragon’s return to earth, tracking its re-entry and ultimate crash landing in the Pacific.
In a media release, Director of the IRASR, Professor Sergei Gulyaev, said, “We will monitor the flight from launch to re-entry, and provide a two-way communication channel throughout. We will also be called upon to pin-point the craft’s landing position as it splashes into the sea near California.”
“New Zealand’s unique location in the South Pacific means we will be able to see the spacecraft before the SpaceX team, and therefore be able to give them exact coordinates for its landing. If needed they will be able to fine tune the crafts trajectory using our radio telescope.”
AUT’s role in the launch has been widely covered here in New Zealand. Examples include:
You can listen to Professor Sergei Gulyaev talking about the project on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report: