Meet Up #21: Future Proofing Our Industry

Meet Up #21: Future Proofing Our Industry

At our last Meet Up of the year we had another inspiring group of speakers talking about fascinating projects!

Opportunities For Non-STEM Professionals In The Space Industry
Nicholas Borroz, Founder, Rotoiti Consulting Ltd
Nicholas supports clients in the space industry with market research, strategic advisory, and business development services. His clients are mostly New Zealand-based, mostly in launch services, and mostly in the private sector. Nicholas argued that non-STEM skillsets are important for space firms and that there are significant opportunities for non-STEM professionals to work in the space industry.

Superconductivity & Electric Propulsion – Enhancing Space Flight & Mission Possibilities
Dr Nicole van der Laak (Wellington UniVentures) and Dr Jamal Olatunji (Robinson Research Institute)
Recent advances in high-temperature superconductivity (HTS) and miniaturised cryocoolers means that we can now build light weight electrically powered thrusters, that will enhance small satellite missions and open future space flight opportunities. Backed by the NZ Government to build a plasma thruster amplified by their HTS technology, with space heritage planned for 2025. Nicole and Jamal spope about their project and their aspirations to take this technology from the lab and transform it into a commercial reality.

A Review Of The Air Navigation System
Brigid Borlase, Kaitohutohu Mātāmua, Principal Advisor – Economic Regulation, Te Manatū Waka Ministry of Transport
The Ministers of Transport and State-Owned Enterprises have agreed to a broad, first principles review of New Zealand’s air navigation system, in essence examining what New Zealand wants from its air navigation system and how it should be delivered. The focus is on three key settings in the system structure: policy and regulation, institutional structures, and funding arrangements. While the review centres on the air navigation system, implications for the system users and those sectors that benefit from and/or depend on aviation will be a key part of the work. Brigid provided an update on the process of scoping the review and the next steps for this project.

The Aerospace Challenge
Michael Healy, Smart Cities Programme Manager, Christchurch City Council 
The Aerospace Challenge is a collaborative initiative delivered by partners committed to building, strengthening and future-proofing the vibrant and globally successful Aerospace industry in Christchurch. Christchurch City Council in partnership with ChristchurchNZ, Kiwinet and University of Canterbury are seeking innovative real-time solutions to improve aerial imagery collection.  Aerial imagery provides real-world context for councils and government agencies.

Media Release: New Zealand Aerospace Summit – Creating a Vibrant Ecosystem for Aerospace

Media Release: New Zealand Aerospace Summit – Creating a Vibrant Ecosystem for Aerospace

The inaugural New Zealand Aerospace Summit will be held on February 21st, 2022.

  • The Summit will be New Zealand’s largest networking event for the aerospace industry 
  • Held at Te Pae, Christchurch Convention Centre
  • Speakers include Minister Megan Woods and Peter Beck

Organised by Aerospace Christchurch, the Summit will feature Kiwi innovators and trailblazers in keynote sessions and panel discussions. 

Aerospace Christchurch Committee President, Mark Rocket, says the Summit is shaping up to be a step-change event, “We’re keenly anticipating bringing together New Zealand’s key aerospace participants for the first time to discuss how we build an aerospace nation.”

With over 300 delegates, the Summit will be a unique opportunity to connect with aerospace entrepreneurs, investors, professionals, and government agencies. Speakers include Peter Beck (CEO, Rocket Lab) and Anna Kominik (Asia Pacific Region Director, Wisk), and exhibitors include Dawn Aerospace, Merlin Labs, Rocket Lab, Wisk and Kea Aerospace. 

Dawn Aerospace Co-founder James Powell says New Zealand’s aerospace industry is a fast-growing and vibrant community. “We’re looking forward to the New Zealand Aerospace Summit – sharing new ideas, hearing from others in industry, and, of course, we’re always recruiting.”

The Summit will run alongside the Smart Christchurch Innovation Expo, showcasing Canterbury’s latest innovations and technologies with more than one hundred interactive exhibitors and more than fifty speakers.

Tickets for the Aerospace Summit are still available here:

About Aerospace Christchurch

Aerospace Christchurch is an industry body that promotes the interests of our city, our region and our nation. We encompass broad aspects of aerospace: aviation, space flight, rocketry, manufacturing, engineering, geospatial mapping, data analytics, education, training and services. Aerospace Christchurch works with individuals and organisations that want to grow the economic wealth and aerospace capability in New Zealand.

For more information, visit

For more about the Smart Christchurch Innovation Expo, visit

Media enquiries:
Vickie Harman
Communications and Events Manager
Aerospace Christchurch

Aerospace Projects Lifting Off in Ōtautahi Christchurch

Aerospace Projects Lifting Off in Ōtautahi Christchurch

Ōtautahi Christchurch is home to a diverse community of start-ups, entrepreneur-driven companies and organisations dedicated to aerospace innovation. 

Canterbury is well on the way to being an integral facet of a flourishing national aerospace sector. With unique physical attributes, proximity to international ports, existing testing facilities and one of New Zealand’s largest electronic manufacturing clusters, the talent pool is also here; nearly a third of national aerospace engineering students, and nearly a quarter of engineering students, graduate from Canterbury universities. 

Fuelling the transition to more sustainable, efficient ways of transport, the Christchurch aerospace industry has a range of new and well-established key players shaping the sector, from research and design, to building, testing, launching, and servicing satellites, drones, flying vehicles, space launch vehicles, and manned and unmanned spacecraft. 

Below, we’ve curated a selection of exciting companies operating in the region that are making a splash in the aerospace industry.


Delivering technically advanced and innovative composite engineering and cryogenic solutions.

World-leaders in magnetic, superconducting, and cryogenic systems, AFCryo (formerly Fabrum Solutions) designs, develops and manufactures all of their technology here in Christchurch. Their facilities include the largest 5 axis waterjet profiling company in New Zealand, along with CNC mills and turning centres. With a large team of design engineers and craftsmen, they have the ability to conceptualise, design, manufacture and assemble complete systems inhouse.

AFCryo works internationally and leads the world in the design, development, and build of industrial composite technological solutions. With a wide range of capabilities and expertise, AFCryo contributes to several industries, including medical, research, power systems, creative, and oil and utilities. 

AFCryo produces equipment for the cryogenic and superconducting industries, including composites for cryogenic containment and cooling systems in power systems equipment and other magnetic systems. AFCryo also manufactures large volume industrialised cryocoolers.

Since building the composite dewar and associated hardware for the world’s first partial core superconducting transformer in conjunction with the University of Canterbury, AFCryo have also been involved in numerous global HTS and LTS projects.

Managing Director at AFCryo, Christopher Boyle sees Christchurch as a living environment that attracts open minded motivated people. “Our choice to locate in Christchurch was deliberate – the network is very supportive of innovative discussions, and we wanted to build on the city’s depth of manufacturing and draw on the talent from the region’s tertiary institutes.”

We had a chat to AFCryo Managing Director Chris Boyle.

What do you see as big growth opportunities in Canterbury in the aerospace sector? How do you see AFCryo to fit into this picture?
There’s a lot of potential for growth in the Christchurch aerospace industry. Opportunities in plasma drives, fuelling systems, and integrated satellite platforms in particular are a few of the key areas for Canterbury aerospace.

AFCryo’s role is to continue growing as a significant player in global hydrogen production activities, LOX systems for aviation, integrated platforms for satellite systems, and high speed transportation systems.

In early 2020, we teamed up with the UK’s Clean Power Hydrogen (CPH2) company, signing a landmark agreement to pave the way to produce a world-leading, Green Hydrogen production system from New Zealand by mid 2021. This was an exciting step, joining New Zealand technology with UK-developed electrolyser technology. It will provide a solution that will help the New Zealand Government’s vision to harness the hydrogen opportunity for a sustainable and resilient energy future and create a zero-carbon emmission’s environment. It is also important that the employment generated by the New Zealand technology will be based in New Zealand.

We’re now working on some exciting new projects, including plasma drives for space travel, superconducting aviation motors, hydrogen production units, and next evolution coldhead technology for low-temperature cryocoolers.

Why do you think Canterbury is an ideal location for an aerospace hub for New Zealand?
Canterbury has such a supportive innovation network, making it an ideal aerospace hub. It has high-tech manufacturers, and a living environment that attracts open minded, motivated people. There’s a huge opportunity for growth in first-stage creation and prototyping for the aerospace sector, especially in engineering design and manufacturing.

Asteria Engineering Consultancy

Creating state-of-the-art bespoke electrical and mechanical solutions for New Zealand’s burgeoning aerospace sector.

Asteria offers engineering consulting services, rapid prototyping, electronics and PCB design, embedded software and firmware, cutting edge technologies, power systems and more. Their goal: to help their clients’ projects get off the ground.  

From harnessing solar arrays to building cubesats, Asteria Engineering Consultancy understands how to create specialised products for flight and space. Asteria works closely with clients from understanding requirements and design right through to manufacture and testing to create customised, successful solutions to achieve their clients’ goals.

Since beginning in 2017, Asteria has grown to provide services to a range of customers here at home in New Zealand, as well as internationally. Asteria has worked on nanosatellites, unmanned aerial vehicles, payloads and specialised batteries. Leaders in electrical and aerospace engineering, Asteria provides customised, reliable, high quality, and timely services to every client.

We had a chat to Asteria Founder and CEO David Wright.

Where do you see Asteria in the future?
First, we want to be the company to go to for bespoke, small, lightweight, effective electronics for aerospace in New Zealand.

Second, we offer excellent engineering consulting services to help aerospace companies in New Zealand thrive and grow their businesses. The aerospace sector in New Zealand, and especially in Canterbury, is on the edge of booming and we want to be a core part of that, growing Asteria and supporting our fellow aerospace entrepreneurs.

Third, we offer rapid prototyping – but we want to make that even faster (without compromising on quality). We’re exploring a number of ways that we could reduce the time to create bespoke aerospace solutions, including the development of a GaNFET power system prototyping service, which would significantly cut the development time of creating high performance power systems.

What do you see as big growth opportunities in Canterbury in the aerospace sector? How do you see Asteria to fit into this picture?
We’re seeing more companies pushing the boundaries of possibility, and those companies are growing. As those companies, like Dawn Aerospace and Kea Aerospace, strive to achieve their goals, we see Asteria as a potential partner to facilitate that, providing lightweight, small electronics ideally suited for flight so that those companies can focus on achieving their dreams.

Why do you think Canterbury is an ideal location for an aerospace hub for New Zealand, and specifically for Asteria?
The community and knowledge base is what makes Canterbury great. There are so many people here with a range of expertise, both in aerospace and in supporting areas, that have a passion for space and discovery. These people enjoy working together and helping each other, and coming together as a community at the aerospace meet-ups. For aerospace companies looking to grow, this is the place to be – which is why Asteria is here.

Dawn Aerospace

Creating end-to-end architecture for delivering, positioning, and returning spacecraft in an environmentally conscious way.

Merging the world of aviation and rockets, the Dawn Mk-II Aurora is the latest rocket-powered vehicle of a series that will eventually deliver and return satellites and assets from space. 

“The Aurora represents a massive step forward in space transportation,” said Stefan Powell, Chief Technology Officer of Dawn Aerospace. “Using the same vehicle hundreds or even thousands of times means we don’t need a factory to produce rockets. We can operate a fleet of vehicles to access space daily. And we don’t have to pollute the ocean with rocket debris as we do it.”

With staff in Delft, Netherlands, Europe’s aerospace hub, Dawn’s HQ is based here in Christchurch. “It’s an ideal place to base operations, because it is a good location for flight testing, has less air traffic and relatively stable weather,” says Stefan.

Removing the need for exclusion zones and to shut down airspace for flight, the Dawn Mk-II Aurora is capable of taking off and landing from standard airports, alongside normal aircraft. 

“The challenge of getting to space is equal parts the vehicle, the launch infrastructure and the regulation,” said James Powell, General Manager and CFO. “Building a cheaper rocket, as many are trying to do, only helps with the first part. Dawn’s spaceplane addresses all three factors. The CAA and NZSA have established the best regulatory system in the world, which makes this possible. We are privileged to be working with them.”

HALT & HASS Consulting

Providing development testing and advice, specializing in environmental testing, including Highly Accelerated Life Testing (HALT) and Highly Accelerated Stress Screening (HASS).

Founded in 2005 to serve the domestic and international market, HALT & HASS is passionate about testing and reliability. Providing a range of services, testing, and equipment, HALT & HASS takes a pragmatic approach to planning, testing, and reporting, and ensuring clients understand the processes and outcomes.

Based in Christchurch, HALT & HASS work closely with the regions’ hyper-electronics and healthcare community, along with supporting industries. They sell, service and maintain test equipment, as well as offer many types of testing, including Highly Accelerated Life Testing (HALT); quantify product reliability using Accelerated Life Testing (ALT); demonstrate reliability using Reliability Demonstration Testing (RDT); and control manufacturing using Highly Accelerated Stress Screening (HASS). 

Striving to help clients increase profitability, market share, and brand awareness, HALT & HASS provides end-to-end solutions and advice for clients.

We had a chat to HALT & HASS Owner Donovan Johnson.

Where do you see HALT & HASS in the Future?
We plan on increasing our testing capability over the coming years to further support the industries we serve – our moniker of “You make it – we break it” fits perfectly, we use over-stress testing to reduce testing time and cost by fast and iterative design changes, and increase effectiveness and reliability of the end product. Our business model is relatively simple, consisting of two main sections – both we plan on improving going forward:

  1. Test Lab

The lab is designed to allow quick and economical access to all customers, but more specifically with a goal of supporting start-ups and disruptive technologies by providing access to high-tech, modern test equipment. Early in development, and particularly for start-ups, funding is important, we’re here to ensure the maximum impact from your testing through the availability of our expertise to streamline your testing process.

  1. Test Equipment

We sell, service and maintain a range of the world’s leading test equipment. From environmental chambers to vibration, packaging and Highly Accelerated Life Testing chambers. The sales side of our business is used to generate funding for our laboratory – so that we can continue to purchase and provide modern equipment and fill the niche market for microservices in the testing space. The culmination of these two parts gives us the ability to provide a full circle or service to our customers. When you’re new we’ll do everything we can to get you results in a quick and efficient manner. When you grow we want to be there too – providing the equipment and expertise to help you set up your own internal testing capabilities, which then feeds back into new equipment purchases for our lab, to help future start-ups make their way in the world.

What do you see as big growth opportunities in Canterbury in the aerospace sector? How do you see HALT & HASS to fit into this picture?
I think the space industry globally is going epically well. New Zealand is definitely up there with innovation and expertise and it’s exciting to see the development in Canterbury specifically. In order to attract more companies and start-ups we need to make sure we have facilities in place to speed development, ease regulation, and allow access to testing facilities from the sub-module level up to full-scale rockets. Project Tawhaki is an outstanding development that enables customers to test their products in an isolated, yet supported place. Full-scale testing is difficult, and often conducted in an ad hoc manner to get around regulatory requirements. An open, accessible space such as this is critical to the success of the space industry in Christchurch. 

Regarding testing facilities: We’d love to scale up to provide a world-leading testing facility for the space industry. I believe we’ve got a good base to do so, but the challenge for us is capital funding. Test equipment, and specifically space-testing equipment is extremely expensive, meaning the business-case to procure it rests on the market willing to use it. We currently wouldn’t have enough customers to generate a ROI on this equipment and so we’re actively looking at alternative funding methods to procure the resource for Canterbury. Our suppliers have extensive experience in setting up these facilities, and they produce the equipment needed. We’re currently looking at how we can leverage that connection from a funding perspective to expand our testing service to cover the various needs of the space industry.

Regarding reliability and expertise: I love what I do, I’ve been testing stuff since 2000 and have enjoyed a progression from testing network equipment to electric propulsion, to rockets. I’ve built an extensive knowledge of the test methods that provide the fastest results, lowering costs, and decreasing design iteration duty cycles. It’s this knowledge that I hope to share with the community, enabling fast development to occur.

Regarding regulation: Standards are designed to give a supplier a simplified path to market. If you meet the standards you get to launch your rocket, in this instance. One of the outstanding opportunities we have as a country and a region is the fact we are starting with a blank page on regulation. Space-native countries like the USA have heavy and cumbersome frameworks forged from decades of failures. These were carved out to protect human life and are still applied to modern automated launch systems with the same brush, being heavy, old, and somewhat irrelevant to modern vehicles they unnecessarily slow development, by burdening the supplier with testing methodologies that have been improved upon 10–fold in the past few years. 

One of the great tests, and the one from which we get our name is Highly Accelerated Life Testing (HALT). HALT is and has been used by many aerospace companies to increase reliability, to find product weakness early in design, and to decrease the time to market. It’s a death-test, and fits our ethos perfectly. Running HALT, and to a greater extent Highly Accelerated Stress Screening (HASS) reduces the risk of failure but also the time to develop and deploy products. Current testing methods rely on single-axis vibration testing, along with long term thermal cycling (weeks-months), when the same failure-modes could be uncovered using modern testing methods such as HALT in hours or days. 

I sincerely hope the industry, and the government realise the opportunity that exists here. To repeat, there are faster ways to test, which means faster times to market, lower cost of entry, and higher reliability on launch. HHCHZ has the experience to design testing programmes that are modern, scalable and efficient and we really want to contribute in this space.

Why do you think Canterbury is an ideal location for an aerospace hub for New Zealand, and specifically for HALT & HASS?
Well, I mean, personally and number 1 for me is that I grew up and live here! My connections – both work and personal, have been developed over 20+ years of working in the high-tech industry in Canterbury. As a region, we have an excellent and diverse set of engineering talent that has successfully driven startups from concept through to international deployment in a wide-range of industries. In what’s considered a very small city globally, we’ve become known as the “Silicon Plains” where the high-tech industry has flourished. 

From electric-automotive, to healthcare, location-based systems, power electronics and to networking, and now on to space we’ve developed a workforce that is passionate, innovative and ready to solve real-world and often extremely difficult challenges. The cross-pollination of engineers across these industries provides a well-rounded workforce that’s solved a lot of problems, in a lot of different markets, this creates a can-do mindset, and the engineering community in Canterbury is something I deeply appreciate and love. I love the fact I can go to a new start-up for a meeting, and within 5 minutes I’ll see someone I’ve worked with, someone we’ve tested for, or helped in some other way. It might seem to the outsider that this indicates a limited talent pool – but it’s quite the opposite, it’s more that people like to move around – because they love the challenge of something new – and that over 20 years we’ve been lucky enough to work with large pools of engineers at some of Canterbury’s finest tech companies. 

The other cool thing about Canterbury is it’s access to the outdoors, and to vast swathes of land – specifically now with access to Project Tawhaki we just have the ability to deploy and test at a scale most other small regions don’t enjoy. The engineering pool, coupled with access to increasingly robust testing facilities will enable us to research and develop things I haven’t even imagined yet, let alone comprehend. 

Specifically for HALT & HASS, it’s a great place to live and work, my lab is at my home – I love what I do, and I thoroughly enjoy working with our customers and showing them around. There is space to grow, and we’ve enjoyed strong support over the last few years that’s enabled us to grow organically, without the need for external funding, a resource that contributes back to those that are under-resourced in the early days of start-ups but can scale to help larger customers when they grow.

JIX Reality

Building commercially viable real-world applications for Extended Reality and Artificial Intelligence.

JIX is a R&D studio continuously experimenting, designing and building digital experiences. Jix offers an accessible path to innovation through commercially viable XR(VR/AR/MR) & AI solutions.

JIX was born in 2017 when founder Sakthi Priya Balaji Ranganathan noticed a significant void in applying Immersive Tech Research to actual industry problems. Over the course of the last 4 years, Jix have built a host of solutions ranging from large screen AR spectacles, AR travel portals, AR Retail Product Visualisation to virtual simulations for emergency training and multi-sensory museum exhibits. 

The Jix team has the ability to understand technology, discover the shortest way to implement it and more importantly know how exactly it fits into their customer’s business. ‘Be Adaptable. Be Flexible’ is their approach to staying on top of the evolving tech game.

Where do you see Jix in the future?
We would love to tell stories about the aerospace industry in a more exponential way. There’s so much innovation and room for different companies to set up base here in Christchurch. What we do is tell stories in an immersive way, using virtual and augmented reality, and since it is an emerging market, not many people understand the potential of this medium. We are a research lab and innovation studio, and for the last couple of years, Christchurch has given us the room to grow and the opportunity to work with the innovation ecosystem, and we’re excited to keep growing and connecting with more emerging businesses and individuals.

How do you see Jix in the aerospace sector as it grows in Canterbury?
There’s a great potential for XR to enhance the demonstration, selling, service, and predictive maintenance of aerospace manufacturing through realistic digital twins, virtual simulation & training, and Vision AI. This is the space JIX wants to be leading the change in. We believe we can be part of the huge digital transformation wave that is underway in the aerospace industry to make it more accessible. 

Why do you think Canterbury is an ideal location for an aerospace hub for New Zealand and specifically for Jix?
The geography and vast landscape is well suited to aerospace activities, and lower costs in running a business compared to other cities makes it very practical. There is also such a high calibre of students, graduates, and researchers coming out of the universities in Canterbury.

As the founder of Jix, I come completely from a technical background, and when we first started I didn’t have any clue of what we were doing business-wise. All we had was a prototype and a proof of concept of what we could do with artificial intelligence and virtual reality. We had no idea we would have this chance to grow, and we are very fortunate to grow in the aerospace industry. In particular, the aerospace Meet Ups, the Aerospace Challenge, and the amazing community have put us in the centre of the ecosystem, and gave us a strong foundation to start working with some key people, like the International Antarctic Centre, Ōtakaro, and Te Papa Museum.

We are really glad to be part of this, and we hope that any other budding researchers, computer scientists, rocket engineers or graduates coming out of uni can look up to companies like us, and see there’s an opportunity to grow right here in Christchurch.

Kea Aerospace

Building a fleet of stratospheric aircraft that will be a game-changer for global aerial imaging.

Kea Aerospace is developing a solar-powered, unmanned aircraft, the Kea Atmos, that will collect frequent, high-resolution aerial images. Operating at about twice the altitude of a commercial airliner, the Kea Atmos will fly continuously for months at a time in the stratosphere, a sweet spot for aerial imaging. Spanning an impressive 32 metres, it will be the largest un-crewed aircraft designed and built in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Kea Atmos will plug the data gap in obtaining frequent, cost-effective, high-resolution, multispectral aerial imagery. It will deliver aerial business intelligence for industries such as precision agriculture, environmental monitoring, maritime surveillance, smart city projects and disaster management. 

The endurance and versatility of the Kea Atmos provides a dynamic new platform for a broad range of payload applications. CEO, Mark Rocket says, “New Zealand is an ideal testbed location for emerging aerospace technologies and we’re thrilled to be based in Christchurch for our journey to the stratosphere. ” he says. 

We had a chat to Kea CEO Mark Rocket.

Where do you see Kea in the future?
In the future, we plan to operate a global fleet of stratospheric aircraft to enable informed-decision making for the benefit of humanity and our planet’s ecosystem.

What do you see as big growth opportunities in Canterbury in the aerospace sector? How do you see Kea to fit into this picture?
We’d love to see the region build on our considerable aerospace successes to become the leading hub in the Southern Hemisphere for aerospace research and development.

Kea Aerospace is a Canterbury-based company and we plan on being an integral facet of the industry’s future growth.

Why do you think Canterbury is an ideal location for an aerospace hub for New Zealand, and specifically for Kea?
Canterbury is an outstanding location for aerospace companies because we have a well-connected ecosystem with extensive manufacturing capability and world-class innovative talent.


Developing innovative, cross-industry location data solutions, services, and products to help organisations make better decisions. 

Orbica is pioneering geospatial artificial intelligence (GeoAI) through geography and the power of location data. Specialising in location-based, or ‘geospatial’ data, Orbica is developing unique data visualisation solutions to enable organisations to gain near real-time visibility of their data. 

Orbica is pioneering geospatial artificial intelligence (GeoAI) through a combination of remote sensing and deep learning techniques. Specialising in location-based, or ‘geospatial’ data, Orbica is developing unique modern web based geospatial applications to enhance decision making and stakeholder engagement.

With ambitions to enhance billions of lives through the power of geography, Orbica works internationally, with locations in Christchurch and Berlin, developing innovative, cross-industry solutions, services, and products.

We had a chat to Orbica Founder and CEO Kurt Janssen.

Where do you see Orbica in the future?
Leading the charge by making insights from Geospatial Data accessible and relevant to far wider audiences then it currently is. At the heart of what we do is digitising the age-old discipline of geography. It’s all about understanding planet Earth, its finite resources and best optimising how humans live on, consume, and ensure its sustainability for future generations to come. This is so incredibly relevant right now with climate change and impending biodiversity ‘collapse.’

What do you see as big growth opportunities in Canterbury in the aerospace sector? How do you see Orbica to fit into this picture?
There is so much actively happening in Canterbury regarding aerospace technologies and businesses, and much effort is being invested into data capture platforms. Orbica is all about making sense of the current and future tsunami of data coming our way for decision makers, and humanity at large. By working collaboratively with local upstream hardware and data capture businesses, Orbica can focus on the derived knowledge products of value helping solve some of New Zealand’s and the world’s biggest challenges. 

Why do you think Canterbury is an ideal location for an aerospace hub for New Zealand, and specifically for Orbica?
Canterbury is home. Being a geographer and a data and space ‘nerd’ I’m so happy that we have the potential in New Zealand to lead the charge and help make a difference at a global scale. NZ is a great place to do business, to innovate, and to live. As long as we think global, use NZ as a launching pad (excuse the pun) for new ideas and businesses, together we can have an impact globally. For Orbica specifically, with the advent of cloud computing, borderless software delivery, and the increasing willingness for government and corporate executives to embrace digital transformation, we are well positioned to strive towards our goal of ‘Enhancing billions of lives with the power of Geography’.

Ruamoko Innovation

Delivering structural design solutions to lessen the impact of major earthquakes on buildings and providing a quality structural engineering service for mainstream projects.

Named after the Māori god of earthquakes, Ruamoko Solutions is a New Zealand based consultancy that operates globally in providing specialist engineering advice and services to the space and defense sector, as well as offering mainstream and specialist structural engineering services to many industry sectors.

Ruamoko Solutions are members of the International Professional Engineers Register (IntPE), EngineeringNZ, AceNZ and are associates of Aerospace Christchurch. Their work in the space sector extends globally, having completed the structural design of space radars in New Zealand (Kiwi Space Radar), Costa Rica (Costa Rica Space Radar) and are currently working on the design of many other globally positioned installations in the space sector.

Ruamoko Solutions has won a number of prestigious industry awards for their work, the coveted 2020 AceNZ Gold Award for the LeoLabs Kiwi Space Radar.

We had a chat to Ruamoko Managing Director Julian Ramsay.

Where do you see Ruamoko in the future?
Globally there is an ever increasing focus on sustainability and there is no doubt that the space and technology sector will be hugely important in helping this cause. The NZ space sector is worth approximately $1.7b per year to the NZ economy and is only going to increase. Ruamoko Solutions is very excited about growing opportunities in this sector and with the increasing number of space and technology projects on our books I can only see us becoming more involved in this sector.

What do you see as big growth opportunities in Canterbury in the aerospace sector? How do you see Ruamoko to fit into this picture?
Aerospace has been nominated as one of Christchurch’s “Supernode” sectors, and Canterbury will be the first region to develop an aerospace sector plan to grow and nurture the industry, with the goal being that Canterbury is New Zealand’s main aerospace testbed by 2025. The recently announced Project Tāwhaki at Kaitōrete opens up a whole host of opportunities not only with launches, but all associated services such as space research, materials development and testing, tourism, weather and atmospheric research. Ruamoko Solutions has proven experience on several space projects with US based Silicon Valley firm LeoLabs and has developed a strong reputation for innovation, having won a Gold Award at the 2020 AceNZ Engineering Awards for our work on the Kiwi Space Radar. Our local presence and experience should position us well, and we are gearing up for an increase of projects in the sector locally.

Why do you think Canterbury is an ideal location for an aerospace hub for New Zealand, and specifically for Ruamoko?
Canterbury is very fortunate to be well placed geographically, technically, and logistically for increasing opportunities in the aerospace sector. It has good access to desirable orbits, some of the largest selections of launch angles in the world, clear skies and seas, an internationally connected city with lots of easy access flat spaces, low levels of air and shipping traffic, a world-class university, and a highly skilled local workforce that is gathering momentum. The more innovation and aerospace involvement we see here will serve to attract more of the same which is where cross-pollination and synergy occurs, and this is only being encouraged by the likes of ChristchurchNZ, MBIE/NZ Space Agency, and NZ Government R&D partnerships with global space firms. The industry in Canterbury is already punching well above its weight with innovators such as Dawn Aerospace, Kea Aerospace, Fabrum Solutions etc. With NZ now the fourth largest player in the industry, NZ is really starting to put itself on the map globally which should only serve to increase opportunities in Canterbury.

Ruamoko’s involvement with LeoLabs proves that NZ firms can have a meaningful and real input into the global space sector. Our experience has shown that having the right “can-do” kiwi attitude is of real value, and has seen us continue our relationship on several other projects. As more and more NZ firms get involved, this will have a snowball effect as the spotlight shines more on NZ. Hopefully other global space-tech firms can be inspired to partner up with NZ companies, and increase NZ’s exposure in the space technology sector on a global stage. The combination of local presence and proven real-world experience with global tech companies positions Ruamoko well for involvement in an aerospace hub in Canterbury, and we are very excited for upcoming opportunities.


Using flight autonomy to Take the Pilot out of the Plane, saving people and the planet.

Skybase is an Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) company, founded in Christchurch in 2017, by highly qualified aviation experts with extensive military and civil aerospace technology development experience. The founding team of Michael, Maēlle, and Eric has cumulatively over 65 years in the aerospace industry.

Skybase are currently flight testing our market-entry product, called SOFI, to ‘Take the Pilot out of the Plane’ by upgrading existing aeroplanes to give them ‘drone capabilities’. Why do this? There are thousands of aeroplanes which sit on the ground for more than half of the time, particularly in Agriculture and Aerial Firefighting. The aircraft are limited to flying in daytime and in fine weather, making the return on investment for aircraft operators much slower than necessary. 

By unlocking flight at night or poor weather, SOFI delivers double the utilisation of the same aeroplane, thereby increasing food-crop production and decreasing carbon emissions from wildfires. SOFI offers a big opportunity for aircraft operators to gain more than 180% increase (i.e. nearly triple) in bottom-line profitability, plus a massive increase in safety for the pilot, who is now safely monitoring the ‘aeroplane-drone’ from the ground and not being exposed to spray or smoke.  To minimise downside risk, the original features of the aircraft are preserved, so whenever required, customers can still fly their aircraft the ‘traditional’ way by leaving SOFI in the ‘off’ position. Skybase expects to have their first customers flying their SOFI-equipped aircraft in 2023, in many countries around the world.

We had a chat to Skybase Founder Michael Read.

What do you see as big growth opportunities in Canterbury in the aerospace sector?
Fundamentally we’re an incubation nation, so the ability to take your idea and test to see if it’s going to work. Craftiness and ingenuity in early stages means you can quickly see whether your idea is going to work. Because this is a first world country with a first world regulator, you can test your product and your processes in a manner that is consistent with how your market will do it. By virtue of population size, the problems that aerospace products solve here are very scalable, making New Zealand, and in particular Christchurch, which has a lot of manufacturing businesses an ideal hub for aerospace.

The next phase of growth for what we’re going to see in Christchurch is the first manufacturing facility for an aerospace company. That’s likely to happen in the next few years, where there will be one or two companies that get approval to manufacture products to go into aeroplanes or helicopters. There are other companies that manufacture products in aerospace, but getting a certified product requires a particular type of manufacturing facility.  There are only a handful of these kinds of factories around the world, and because of the rigorous, costly certification processes they are generally very busy. Once you have that kind of manufacturing facility operating locally, it’s a very good indication of the strength of the industry and its potential for growth.

Why do you think Canterbury is an ideal location for an aerospace hub?
New Zealand is an ideal place for aerospace technology development and testing. With a rich aerospace ecosystem, a highly regarded regulator, and soon-to-be created dedicated testing areas, we can move much faster here than most other places on Earth.

With challenging terrain, brutal weather, a dispersed population and high operating costs, New Zealand is the perfect place to prove that our technology is robust and we can deliver valuable services to our customers with that technology.

Swoop Aero

Developing and implementing a sustainable, reliable, and scalable technology platform that makes access to the skies seamless.

Swoop Aero was founded to change how the world moves by making access to the skies seamless and provides the world’s leading integrated drone logistics platform for sustainable, reliable, and scalable air logistics.

Founded in 2017, Swoop Aero integrates bi-directional drone logistics to enhance the strength and resilience of supply chains. Swoop Aero’s aircraft bridge gaps in logistics by overcoming vast distances, traffic congestion, location accessibility, inhospitable terrain, and data shortages around the world. Offering services from medical transport, beyond line of sight imagery with real-time data, and contactless drone deliveries, to humanitarian aid and disaster relief, Swoop Aero partners works with organisations ready to operate drone logistics at scale.

Based in Australia, Swoop Aero joined the MBIE Airspace Integration Trial in June 2021, to sustainably improve health supply chains in urban and rural communities by overcoming transport and infrastructure barriers that currently limit access to essential supplies. As well as their current Kookaburra aircraft, Swoop Aero will also be operating Kite, their next generation aircraft, in New Zealand. With Kite, Swoop Aero will also assist in responses to natural disasters, severe weather events and epidemics across the country.

Swoop Aero’s vision is for a world where seamless supply chains bring emotional and economic prosperity to all they serve. Already creating a positive global impact through their operations in seven countries across three continents, Swoop Aero looks forward to bringing the world’s leading integrated drone logistics platform for sustainable, reliable, and scalable air logistics to Aotearoa New Zealand.

Operating in 5 countries, Swoop provides the world’s most trusted, integrated technology platform for sustainable, reliable, and scalable air logistics.

We had a chat to Swoop General Manager Richard Adams.

Where do you see Swoop in the future?
Within New Zealand, we’re aiming to provide seamless access to the air for 5 million Kiwi’s, strengthening the healthcare supply chain while providing training and employment opportunities. Globally, our mission is to provide the world’s leading technology platform for sustainable, reliable, and scalable drone logistics, and our goal is to reach 100 million people by 2025, and we’re on track to achieve that as our networks continue to expand globally. While the majority of our 10,000 flights to date have been in rural and regional locations, we’ve set our sights on large scale urban operations. Our next generation aircraft, Kite, which was launched in August and is currently undergoing FAA certification, is designed to unlock the skies above cities. We’re looking forward to furthering our impact as we exponentially increase the number of communities that we serve.

What do you see as big growth opportunities in Canterbury in the aerospace sector? How do you see Swoop to fit into this picture?
The aviation ecosystem here has already made Canterbury the leading location for aerospace development in New Zealand, setting the foundations for future growth with both home-grown and international companies attracted by all that Canterbury has to offer. Having innovative and future-focused programs such as Project Tāwhaki on our doorstep demonstrates a clear intent to develop the sector in Canterbury and will only lead to further growth.

For Swoop Aero, we’re looking forward to increasing airspace integration for autonomous systems through MBIE’s Airspace Integration Trial Program, creating the foundations for future growth in the sector. At the same time, we’re excited about providing local training, experience and employment, future-proofing the Kiwi workforce and ensuring that New Zealand is in the best possible position to embrace autonomous technology as new opportunities present themselves.

Why do you think Canterbury is an ideal location for an aerospace hub for New Zealand, and specifically for Swoop?
The innovation that’s taken place within Christchurch and Canterbury since the earthquakes, making the most of a terrible series of events to establish the area as a market leader across various sectors, and in particular the aerospace sector, has been fantastic to see. With the work that’s already been done in aviation, space flight, manufacturing, engineering, geospatial mapping, data analytics, and education, there is a wealth of skills and knowledge in the region, making it the perfect place for Canterbury’s continued growth as an aerospace hub.

I’ve also been really impressed with the level of collaboration across various companies and organisations across Canterbury, as opposed to competition, which can only mean good things as we grow as a unified sector over the coming months and years. Having access to Kaitōrete Spit as part of Project Tāwhaki will prove invaluable as a flight test and R&D site. The varied geography of the region will provide the challenge we’re looking for as we establish networks across the country and progress through MBIE’s Airspace Integration Trial Program.


Making safe and sustainable everyday flight a reality with an all-electric, self-flying air taxi.

Wisk is an Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) company dedicated to delivering safe, everyday flight for everyone. Wisk was established in 2019 as a joint venture between The Boeing Company and Kitty Hawk Corporation, two leaders in aviation who are shaping the future of mobility. 

Wisk has a team of more than 360 worldwide, between California (HQ), Atlanta and New Zealand. In New Zealand, Wisk has operations in Wellington, Christchurch and Takapō and we have grown from a team of two in 2017 to the highly-skilled, multi-disciplined team of about 20 we have today. 

Wisk’s Air Taxi
Wisk’s current generation aircraft is designed for two passengers, and is all-electric and self-flying. It’s known as an eVTOL aircraft – which stands for Electric Vertical Take Off and Landing. It rises like a helicopter, but flies like a plane, meaning there’s no need for a runway. It uses self-flying software, combined with expert human supervision (from the ground) and there is an unwavering focus on safety. 

By self-flying, we mean that our aircraft is fully autonomous. There is no stick-and-rudder in the aircraft or on the ground. The aircraft flies itself. However, we haven’t fully removed humans from the loop. There are still humans on the ground that monitor each flight from a ground control station. This level of autonomy is unique to Wisk and we’ve been flying this way since 2017. Ultimately, it is where we (along with many other companies) believe the industry is ultimately headed to achieve scale and do so safely.  

Wisk has completed more than 1,500 test flights across five generations of full-scale aircraft in the US and New Zealand. 

Where do you see Wisk in the future?
Wisk is part of the electric aviation evolution. We see ourselves as one of the key players who will change the history and landscape of flight for generations to come. For Wisk, the ultimate goal is about making our daily connections easier, greener and more accessible. 

As one of the only Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) companies with backing from aviation leaders, The Boeing Company and Kitty Hawk Corporation, Wisk is growing to be one of the world’s leading AAM companies in this fast growing global sector. Morgan Stanley predicts that by 2045 the AAM market could have a total addressable market (TAM) up to US$3.8 trillion globally. 

What do you see as big growth opportunities in Canterbury in the aerospace sector? 
Significant value: The aerospace industry presents a huge potential for Canterbury and New Zealand’s post COVID economy. New Zealand has a very real natural advantage in the aerospace (aviation and space) sector.  This is a very fast growing sector both in New Zealand and globally. The aerospace sector (including advanced aviation and space) is already contributing more than $2bn a year to the New Zealand economy, and globally advanced air mobility has grown to about $500m in revenue over the past two years.

This growing industry is almost entirely driven by commercial activity and private sector investment. It’s an industry that can support high skill, high value jobs that contribute to New Zealand’s future success, environmental goals and wellbeing in the future. Developing new industries, like aerospace, is going to be really important for Aotearoa New Zealand as we evolve in the decarbonised world.

Analysis by Deloitte and Aerospace Christchurch shows the global advanced air mobility market growing to $115 billion by 2035, so there is huge potential.

Growing skills and jobs: The New Zealand Aerospace industry is interning, employing and training New Zealanders into high value/ high tech and future focused jobs. Wisk and others are helping develop a pipeline of talent in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to fulfil the future need for these skills. Creating high value jobs for the future is one of the ‘halo effects’ from having the advanced air mobility industry blossoming right here in Aotearoa. We can take any young person with an interest in engines and turn them into an aircraft maintenance engineer.

Contributing to sustainability: Our industry is also critical for New Zealand’s decarbonisation goals. Aviation is responsible for 14% of New Zealand’s CO2 emissions, and as a region Canterbury contributes to 14.2% of New Zealand’s carbon footprint, the second-highest emitting region. 

The Advanced Air Mobility sector of the New Zealand Aerospace industry is developing smart, green tech that attracts international investment and talent that, in turn, upskills Kiwis and grows our skill-base here in Aotearoa. The technologies we are developing are often adjacent to or aligned with automotive advancements. They also create a ‘halo effect’, nurturing and sustaining other technologies that add further value to our economic and social wellbeing. 

New Zealand has a number of competitive advantages to grow the industry here. How do you see Wisk to fit into this picture?
Wisk’s presence in New Zealand. Following a global search, Aotearoa New Zealand was found to be a natural fit. Wisk had been looking for somewhere that was bold and progressive, focused on sustainability, while still having a world class reputation in certification and regulation. Kiwis’ tendency to embrace new things and their innovative culture was also a key factor in deciding to support the development of Wisk’s air taxi here in Aotearoa. Wisk’s work in New Zealand presents significant potential for our country. It demonstrates what’s possible in New Zealand, which we hope will help attract other R&D investment to these shores.

Wisk’s presence in Canterbury. Our team based in Canterbury are made up of University of Canterbury graduates, and include born and bred Cantabrians. Our team works with a range of stakeholders, communities and partners, including Ngāi Tahu, local government, businesses and other aerospace industry companies. We’d like to think our presence on the ground and the work we’re progressing, like our Airspace Integration Trials Programme, is contributing to the future wellbeing of our region, through high skill, high value jobs and the adjacent green technologies that companies like ours are developing.

Why do you think Canterbury is an ideal location for an aerospace hub in general for New Zealand, and specifically for Wisk?
Canterbury is a future-focused, innovation hub and the home to aviation innovator and legend, Richard Pearse. Aerospace is one of Christchurch’s ‘supernodes’, and Canterbury is the first region to develop an aerospace sector plan to grow and nurture the industry, with the goal of being New Zealand’s aerospace testbed by 2025. There is an existing cluster of aerospace players based in Canterbury, along with exciting developments like the R&D facilities at Kaitōrete as part of the Government’s Project Tāwhaki.

Canterbury has a number of advantages. Canterbury is the first region to develop an aerospace sector plan to grow and nurture the aerospace industry. Having other like-minded companies around provides support and an innovation ‘halo effect’. Canterbury also has a lot of social, technical and education advantages that make it a natural place for innovation to develop and grow.

Christchurch Aerospace Challenge: Search for aerial image innovations underway in Ōtautahi Christchurch

Christchurch Aerospace Challenge: Search for aerial image innovations underway in Ōtautahi Christchurch

Friday 5 November: The search is on for an innovative, disruptive technology to revolutionise how Ōtautahi Christchurch captures aerial imagery.

Images taken from high above the earth are used to make better decisions about what should be done on the land below. From tackling air pollution to water level changes through to disaster management and recovery – aerial imagery provides the Christchurch City Council with important information to make informed decisions.

The Christchurch Aerospace Challenge has been launched today to find new ways to capture these images. It is being delivered through a partnership between ChristchurchNZ and the Christchurch City Council and is proudly supported by the University of Canterbury and KiwiNet.

Christchurch City Council’s Smart Christchurch Programme Manager Michael Healy says the aerial technology currently available can be slow and costly.

“Turnaround time between capturing the images and delivery can be anywhere between six to nine months and poor weather conditions can add further delays. We’re wanting to work with the innovative aerospace startups, businesses and researches that abound here in Christchurch, and across New Zealand, who could help us create an efficient, higher quality, timely and value-for-money solution.” 

The Aerospace Challenge requires applicants to submit a concept that will revolutionise hardware and software for aerial imagery capture. Submissions, due by 6 December, should also allow for public access to data, be environmentally sustainable and able to produce a prototype that can be optimised within the Challenge timeframe (January to June 2022).

Four applicants will be selected by a judging panel in January 2022 and each will receive a $10,000 grant to develop their solution. One final winner will be selected in June 2022, and awarded a $30,000 contract with the Christchurch City Council to put their prototype to use in the Council’s Smart Christchurch programme. The imagery will help with the development of a digital replica of Christchurch, to be used for planning, and enable advanced analysis of data.

ChristchurchNZ Business Attraction Manager Liz Eden says Christchurch is fast becoming the country’s aerospace and future transport hub.

“We’ve got an amazing depth and breadth of aerospace businesses and talent here in Christchurch. We want to tap into some of that expertise to help deliver technology that brings value for the whole city, while at the same time supporting the sector.”

KiwiNet Commercialisation Manager Alexandra Stuthridge says the Challenge provides an opportunity for researchers and students to apply a commercial lens to their work. 

“Getting bright scientific minds to solve targeted, real-world problems provides them with invaluable experience that they otherwise are not exposed to behind the confines of the lab bench.”

University of Canterbury Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research Professor Ian Wright agrees the Challenge is an important way to build capability in Canterbury and across Aotearoa New Zealand.

“This is a chance to really energise the development of a truly recognised global industry.”

More information and entry details can be found at

Media enquiries:

Jocelyn Ritchie
Manager News and Media
Christchurch City Council
03 941 8949 or 027 241 0244

Kylie Yardley
Content Producer
021 1868 020

New Zealand Women in Space

New Zealand Women in Space

An annual celebration of science and technology, World Space Week (WSW) is seven days full of all things space from 4th – 10th October. 

This year, the theme ‘Women in Space’ spotlights inspiring women in aerospace all around the world. We had a chat to a few of the awesome women in space right here in New Zealand below.


Thousands of events in over 80 countries are held every year, from educational workshops and online lectures, to opportunities to observe planets through telescopes. 

Events provide a chance to appreciate the awe-inspiring phenomena of the universe, and educate people about space and cosmic discoveries. Outreach events and education opportunities are held every year all over the world by space agencies, aerospace companies, schools, museums, astronomy clubs and planeteria.

Coordinated by the United Nations with the support of the World Space Week Association (WSWA), WSW aims to:

  • Provide unique leverage in space outreach and education
  • Educate people around the world about the benefits that they receive from space
  • Encourage greater use of space for sustainable economic development
  • Demonstrate public support for space programs
  • Excite young people about science, technology, engineering, and math
  • Foster international cooperation in space outreach and education

Beginning on the 4th October, the first day of WSW commemorates the launch of Sputnik 1, the first human-made satellite launched in 1957. The final day of the week marks the signing of the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies on 10th October 1967. 


A theme frames each year of WSW, and 2021 brings ‘Women in Space’ centrestage as this year’s focus. In a sector generally dominated by men, WSW aims to inspire young women to pursue studies and future careers in STEM and space industries, and celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of women in the sciences and space.

With so many inspiring and passionate women in our local space industry here in New Zealand, we’re excited to feature a few with you in WSW! 

Dr Lisa Brown

General surgeon by day, and aerospace researcher by night, Dr Lisa Brown sees a bright future for aerospace in New Zealand.

What does your day-to-day look like?

I am a general surgeon completing further subspecialty training in hepatobiliary surgery. In addition to my surgical training I have also completed training and research in aerospace medicine. My current day to day work is operating and looking after patients at the Hospital and then in the evenings performing my research work in Aerospace and attending meetings with different Aerospace groups around the World that I am a member of (and spending time with my 2 year old daughter).

How and when did you begin in the aerospace sector?

I was a Kiwi girl growing up with an interest in the natural world and the physics of space. During my time at medical school I completed summer internships in Australia in the aviation field and then during my PhD I was able to really expand my interest in aerospace, taking astrophysics papers at university at the same time. I then went to The University of Oxford and was the Aerospace Medicine Research Fellow there in 2015. I then completed an internship at the German Aerospace Center/European Astronaut Center and was the first New Zealander to complete the Principles of Aviation and Space Medicine Short Course by the University of Texas in Houston and was able to learn from NASA Astronauts and attend teaching at Johnson Space Center and the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory.

My research in the aerospace arena has continued and my involvement in international committees. I was the Resident representative for the Space Medicine Association executive committee and also sit on the Space Surgery Association executive committee. I am currently a voluntary mentor with the United Nations Women in Space program.

What are the best parts of your job? What are the best parts of working in the aerospace industry?

Like surgery, aerospace involves a lot of hard work and problem solving. The best part of being involved with aerospace medicine is the exciting new discoveries that occur consistently. Being able to conceptualise problems that might occur in microgravity to the human body and how you could counteract this to push the human body to its limits is really exciting and rewarding.

The aerospace industry enables interaction with multiple other members of the team – engineers, physicists, planetary scientists, rocket scientists – and many more. Learning from these people in their areas of expertise is fascinating.

What are some challenges you face in your work? 

With multiple areas of work going on sometimes it can be difficult to fit it all in. Keeping good lists, plans and being lucky enough to have great family support makes it all possible. The physical distance from being away from the action of live human launches to space can make things challenging – so utilizing remote access to meetings, attending conferences (post Covid) and further development of the aerospace industry here in New Zealand can all help with this.

What challenges/barriers do you or those around you experience as a woman in aerospace?

Like surgery, there is a lack of female role models in aerospace, with historically most people working in this area being men. It can be hard to imagine working in an area without seeing people that you identify with working in that role. There are some pioneers out there and many more women now working in the field and it is only getting better.

How do you see the future of the aerospace sector? Specifically for women?

The future of the aerospace sector is bright and particularly in New Zealand it is rapidly expanding. With the advent of commercial space flight the opportunities to be involved with the Aerospace sector are huge. There are also so many areas in which people can become involved including space law, policy, medicine, engineering etc.

Is there anything you’d share with young people and women wanting to go into the aerospace industry, or something you wish you knew when you were starting out?

Just go for it. Don’t let anything knock you back. There are opportunities out there, you just need to keep an eye out and connect with people. Overall you do need to work hard, but if aerospace is your passion, it will never feel like work.

Dr Sarah Kessans

Dr Sarah Kessans is not your average University of Canterbury Lecturer! A biochemist researching how to grow alternative foods in space, Sarah was also a Finalist Interviewee in NASA’s Astronaut Candidate Selection Process in 2017.

What does your day-to-day look like?

I am a Lecturer in the School of Product Design at the University of Canterbury. My day-to-day is focused mainly on teaching and research. I’m not your typical “aerospace” lecturer, though. Most of my teaching and research is focussed on using plants, fungi, and bacteria to produce chemical products ranging from pharmaceuticals to agrichemicals. My research is split up between two main topics: fungal synthetic biology and technology development for research in microgravity. Although these two topics may seem completely separate, we’re working towards developing strategies for food and pharmaceutical production for future space exploration, and by combining both of my research areas, we’ll be able to develop organisms that can provide this production.

How and when did you begin in the aerospace sector? 

I began in the aerospace sector back in 2017 when I was fortunate enough to get through to the Finalist Interviewee stage of NASA’s Astronaut Candidate selection process. Although I had always been fascinated by the scientific research taking place on the International Space Station, getting to meet the incredible teams that were making human space exploration possible really changed my perspectives regarding the opportunities for microgravity research. Rocket Lab launched their first Electron Rocket the night before I got the call from NASA that I was not chosen for the 2017 Astronaut Candidate class. After a deep breath and a bit of reflection, I decided that even if I wasn’t chosen as an astronaut, I could put my passion for space exploration into helping to develop Aotearoa’s budding aerospace industry. By collaborating with the UC Aerospace Club and researchers at the University of Auckland, I was able to launch some of New Zealand’s first biological experiments on rockets, and from there we began developing CubeSats for biological research in microgravity. 

What are the best parts of your job? 

The absolute best parts of my job are the incredible people that I get to work with, from our industry partners who bring outstanding engineering, manufacturing, and programming expertise to our teams, to my collaborators at other universities around the globe, to the students who bring such passion and innovation to the projects. 

What are the best parts of working in the aerospace industry?

The amazing community that we are a part of. A lot of times research can be quite competitive and secretive, but I have found the aerospace industry, especially here in Christchurch and around New Zealand, to be very supportive and open to collaboration and partnerships. 

What are some challenges you face in your work? 

Although I have been very privileged to have been given opportunities to integrate myself into the community, I know that hasn’t been the case for everyone. A big challenge that we face as a sector is ensuring that a wide variety of perspectives and expertise are included in the industry.  

What challenges/barriers do you or those around you experience as a woman in aerospace?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have some phenomenal female mentors throughout my career, but the percentage of women in the aerospace sector here in Aotearoa is still quite low, and so it’s difficult for women to find mentors who look like them. The lack of female mentors and career champions can make it very difficult for women to get a foot in the door in the industry. 

How do you see the future of the aerospace sector? Specifically for women? 

I see the future of the sector diversifying in a range of ways, going far beyond the realm of launch vehicles, satellites, and data collection to long-term, collaborative explorative space missions with big visions for humanity. The wider participation of a diverse community, including a more balanced percentage of women, will allow for these future innovations. 

Is there anything you’d share with young people and women wanting to go into the aerospace industry, or something you wish you knew when you were starting out? 

There is no substitute for just trying things. Even if something seems challenging or beyond your comfort zone, feel the fear and do it anyway. Find someone in the industry who is doing something you’re excited about and have a chat with them to find out how you could get involved.  

Jennifer Blackburne

Jennifer Blackburne works with Dawn Aerospace as a mechanical engineer, and is excited about the fast-growing New Zealand aerospace industry!

What does your day-to-day look like?

I am a mechanical engineer on the propulsion team at Dawn Aerospace. Currently I am working on programming the rocket engine and preparing for the next test campaign of the engine. This involves assembling parts on the test bench, rewiring data acquisition and control systems to add new features, 3D printing the occasional part and integrating new parts onto the test bench.

How and when did you begin in the aerospace sector?

I’m relatively new to the aerospace sector having started working here in March this year. Before this I researched aeromechanical phenomena in turbomachinery working with companies like Daimler Mercedes and Cummins on their turbochargers for large trucks.

What are the best parts of your job? What are the best parts of working in the aerospace industry?

I think one of the best parts of my job is that I get to do both hands-on work in the workshop as well as more analytical work on the computer. It is awesome how quickly things are getting developed here and how problems I’m solving on the computer are integrated into the test bench and rocket engine assembly.

What are some challenges you face in your work?

One of the challenges I’m facing at the moment is managing my time correctly. I have so many jobs I want to get done in a day and, as is often the case with research and development, there are always unexpected challenges that mean it’s sometimes hard to schedule how long things will take or even to know exactly what needs to be done at the start of a job. This makes things exciting and means the job is never boring, but it also means I am sometimes disappointed I did not complete everything I wanted to do in the time I wanted to take. 

What challenges/barriers do you or those around you experience as a woman in aerospace?

I think I’m fortunate to be part of a company where I’m respected for my ideas and skills.  However, in some places I have had problems where I’m often underestimated as a female, and it takes a while for me to gain respect from my peers and for my ideas to be considered (even if they are good ideas!).

How do you see the future of the aerospace sector? Specifically for women?

In New Zealand the aerospace sector is expanding. This means there are more jobs and there is more exciting stuff happening! I think there is a big push to get more women in the field and normalise women and girls choosing careers in aerospace. I’m hoping this will start showing up with more women working in the industry.

Is there anything you’d share with young people and women wanting to go into the aerospace industry, or something you wish you knew when you were starting out?

As someone that has come from a different industry to this one, I would say it’s never too late to get into aerospace. Especially in New Zealand where the industry is developing rapidly, I think it is a really great place to be and you don’t have to have studied rockets or planes for your whole life to be here, you just have to be enthusiastic and ready to learn and solve problems. 

Lara Collier

A passionate young engineer, Lara Collier is now working as a junior software engineer at Rocket lab after interning for a summer.

What does your day-to-day look like?

I’m a junior software engineer for the operational data team at Rocket Lab. I help to build software solutions for data insight – which is the key to all good rocket science! My day-to-day is talking to key engineering stakeholders across the company so that we can build tooling suitable for everyone’s needs. We’re only a small team with a big goal, and so teamwork is absolutely critical to do my job well. 

Most of the day you’ll catch me coding up a storm, planning our work as a team, or reaching out to engineers to help solve some hard problems! Rocket Lab is also just a little bit unique in that our day-to-day can also involve watching a rocket launch or an engine hot fire.

How and when did you begin in the aerospace sector?

I was in the aerospace sector before I even graduated! I was super fortunate to have been able to intern for Rocket Lab for a summer, and then continue on full time as a junior. It couldn’t have worked out any better for me! 

Space was a dream of mine since I was a kid – basically just because I had a slow-burning curiosity for the unknown. I really wanted to be on the frontier of science, and space was my answer to that. Little did I know that my home country NZ was materialising a space ecosystem just in time for me to join it, and it’s only going to get bigger.

What are the best parts of your job? What are the best parts of working in the aerospace industry?

There is nothing better than watching a rocket take off next to all the super clever engineers that built it – with blood, sweat, and tears! I always say, Rocket Lab is super unique in that every single member of the RL team has one goal – and that is to send the rocket to space and deliver the payload to orbit. So when it comes down to it, everyone will do anything they can to help others achieve that goal. That aspect of our culture is so abundantly clear when hundreds of us cram in behind mission control to watch the launch in both periods of utter silence and roaring cheers.

The best part about working in the aerospace industry in general is having the opportunity to learn from the smartest people you’ll probably ever meet. Every day I’m inspired by people’s crazy life and career experiences, deep technical knowledge, and can-do attitude.

What are some challenges you face in your work? 

What often comes with being surrounded by super smart people is the feeling that you might not be deserving of your spot! This is especially the case when you are a woman in a male-dominated field, and I have (and still do, to an extent!) feel challenged by it. Something that’s helped a huge amount has been focussing on my own growth and trying not to compare myself to others. You are the only person on your journey, and it’s important to reflect on how much you’ve learnt and how far you’ve come. 

What challenges/barriers do you or those around you experience as a woman in aerospace?

I think it can be difficult for women to come to the realisation that when they join an aerospace company or group, they may be only one of a few (or maybe even the only) women to be in a team. I know for me, it was daunting when I knew that I may struggle to find that support or a role model to learn from. 

I think as we continue to push for industry and other groups to engage in active promotion of women in their cohort, as well as creating a professional environment for women to thrive, this will greatly reduce the burden of having to be the first to break through that wall. Rocket and space science is hard enough – we need to make the entry for commonly marginalised groups into these fields the easy part.

How do you see the future of the aerospace sector? Specifically for women?

The future of aerospace is diversity! Diverse backgrounds and experiences are crucial to foster innovation, and I think people forget that. Aerospace seems like an objective science to most – but at the end of the day science is done by humans, and the best engineering decisions you can make are ones made by a diverse bunch of clever people. Amplifying the voices of women who have been in the industry for decades, as well as those that are just starting out, is super important to tell girls that there’s a place for them in aerospace. I think right now is an amazing chapter in aerospace specifically in New Zealand, and we need to further it by prioritising getting women of all backgrounds into the industry.   

Is there anything you’d share with young people and women wanting to go into the aerospace industry, or something you wish you knew when you were starting out?

Nothing can truly take away that drive and passion you have. While it might feel like you’re losing that spark sometimes, what you should remember is that you’re paving the way for future generations of girls to smash it in aerospace. Sometimes when I’m having a hard day, I think about the dozens of messages I’ve received from young girls who tell me that they didn’t know any women in aerospace until now! And you will be that inspiration for someone too, whether that be a girl you’ve never met or a young member of your family watching you do something they thought wasn’t possible! 

As for something I wish I knew – I wish I could tell myself that it’s okay not to know everything, uni/school doesn’t prepare you for everything a job might throw at you, and you will build your knowledge and confidence in what you do one day at a time.

Sarah Blyde

After starting her career in Western Australia, Sarah Blyde completed a masters degree in space studies in France, before returning to New Zealand where she now works at Rocket Lab as a project engineer.

What does your day-to-day look like?

I am a project engineer in the Configuration Management team at Rocket Lab. We are responsible for managing engineering changes on the electron launch vehicle from an initial concept through to eventually flying to space. We spend a lot of time working with design and manufacturing engineers to ensure each rocket is designed and built to perfection. 

How and when did you begin in the aerospace sector?

I started my career working as a petroleum engineer in Western Australia after graduating from the University of Auckland. It was a good job but I was much more fascinated by everything that was going on in the space sector. So after a few years there, I went off to France to do a masters degree in space studies. The pandemic kicked off halfway through that so I decided to come home to New Zealand where I finished my studies remotely before starting work at Rocket Lab in 2020.

What are the best parts of your job? What are the best parts of working in the aerospace industry?

There are so many good parts! I love working with people who are so passionate about what they do. There’s always a new challenge around the corner and we’re constantly improving the way we do things. I also really enjoy being able to inspire the younger generation through my work as a Rocket Lab Space Ambassador. And of course, launch days are always a blast – the sound of lift off never gets old!

What are some challenges you face in your work? 

There’s always something new to learn, deadlines to meet, or problems to solve. It’s easy to just get caught up in it all but it’s important to step back every once in a while, look at all the beautiful Electron rockets we have lined up in the factory and just say “wow”.

What challenges/barriers do you or those around you experience as a woman in aerospace?

When it comes to STEM in general, I think we definitely need more female role models to look up to in senior engineering and leadership roles. It’s slowly getting better but there’s always more we can do to support women in STEM careers.

How do you see the future of the aerospace sector? Specifically for women?

I think it’s super exciting! There is so much momentum in the industry right now and I’m so glad to be part of it all. In the future, I’d hope that more women want to join the industry because they can see how fun and rewarding it can be as a career.  

Is there anything you’d share with young people and women wanting to go into the aerospace industry, or something you wish you knew when you were starting out?

It’s for everyone! It doesn’t matter what your background is, the industry needs all sorts of people to contribute to what we do. I always assumed you needed an aerospace degree to work in the industry but you might be surprised how relevant skills from other disciplines or industries are. Your experience could actually be what we’re looking for! There are so many exciting opportunities in the industry and it’s only going to keep growing in the future.  

Jessica Tucker

With almost twenty years experience in aerospace, Jessica Tucker is now a senior associate in systems engineering at Beca Applied Technologies.

What does your day-to-day look like?

I’m a senior associate in systems engineering at Beca Applied Technologies. We’re a consultancy, so we do a broad variety of work – including a lot of high-assurance systems and software engineering in defence and aerospace (especially military aviation). I’m currently a project manager for an aerospace software development project. The software we’re working on will enable critical safety features of the vehicle that will host it. Lots of process assurance is baked into our efforts – to determine whether the software operates just as intended when intended. In addition to project management, I chip in my perspective as an assurance engineer on this project: helping the team demonstrate confidence in our software ahead of an independent V&V assessment. (In that capacity, I’m borrowing heavily from my previous job, where I was a government evaluator for other high-assurance systems developed by US government space organisations.)

How and when did you begin in the aerospace sector?

I came into aerospace somewhat by accident in the summer of 2001. I interned at a defence aerospace research and development organisation in California while I was in graduate school. The role had me performing scanning electron microscopy and materials assessments for microelectronics failure analysis. 

Microelectronics in space systems – especially satellites – often need to be developed to more stringent requirements for reliability, which means manufacturing processes need to be tightly controlled. My job was to help figure out what went wrong when something had failed, or what kind of mission and system risks were posed by the loss of process control in manufacturing. The work I played a small role in helping the Delta II and Delta IV launch vehicles – including the inaugural launch of the Delta IV Heavy – as well as Gravity Probe B, novel cubesat science missions, and other defence-focused space missions.

From there, I moved into a role where I was embedded with the Air Force in the GPS program, supporting the evaluation and certification of security designs for user equipment. This was at the time the new modernized GPS signals were being deployed in the space segment on GPS IIR-M and GPS IIF vehicles and the very first GPS IIIs. I developed a real appreciation for systems engineering and the challenges of enterprise integration of new capabilities – especially in systems that were so visible and critical to both military and civilian users around the world.

My last role before coming to Beca Applied Technologies was one focused on space science and technology research and outreach. I helped problem solvers (scientists, engineers, and technologists) and problem owners (chiefly US government space organisations) articulate the problems that needed solving and understand technology solutions that were available to solve them.

What are the best parts of your job? What are the best parts of working in the aerospace industry?

There are two extremely cool things about what I do. The first is the gratification of knowing that the work I’ve done, the energy I’ve spent thinking about and helping a team solve a really tough problem, has made a difference. Leaving things better than they were when I found them feels really good. The second is the awesome teams of people I get to work beside (clients and colleagues alike). Working with clever people to do awesome things that make a difference… it doesn’t get better than that!

What are some challenges you face in your work?

Diversity is a potent and powerful enabler for solving complex problems and for driving innovation to do things differently. And diverse groups of people tend to see and approach problems from very different perspectives, perspectives shaped by our life experiences. The strongest and most effective teams I ever led were built from individuals who could bring their whole selves to the problem-solving table. I’m really pleased to see more women, indigenous peoples, and other under-represented groups be included in the aerospace community and I look forward to working with others to shape the future in that regard.

What challenges/barriers do you or those around you experience as a woman in aerospace?

Visibility of aerospace career opportunities is a barrier to entry for anyone, especially women. There’s a kernel of truth in that adage, “You can’t be what you don’t see.” Outreach and awareness is important to planting the seed of a future in the aerospace industry. But that’s just a part of the picture: every under-represented group also needs allies from within a community to help advocate for equality, for recognition, and for opportunities. We have a way to go, but the progressiveness and enthusiasm I see in the growing aerospace community in New Zealand inspires me!

How do you see the future of the aerospace sector? Specifically for women?

I think the future of aerospace is bright. Advances in technology are going to enable science fiction to become science fact. And the more women who come to contribute, the faster we’ll get to that future together.

Is there anything you’d share with young people and women wanting to go into the aerospace industry, or something you wish you knew when you were starting out?

Go for it! There are people in the industry ready to cheer you on, ready to support and encourage you, and ready to see what you can do! There are plenty of hard problems that need solving, plenty of good teams that need you and your talents. Come join us and let’s see just how far we can fare together!

Dr Priyanka Dhopade

From growing up in Canada dreaming of becoming an astronaut, Priyanka Dhopade is now a lecturer in thermofluids at the University of Auckland.

What does your day-to-day look like?

I am now a lecturer in thermofluids at the University of Auckland. My day today involves a diverse set of activities, for instance, seeding new research project ideas , lecturing in thermodynamics and fluid mechanics for undergraduate students, and contributing to equity initiatives at the Faculty of Engineering. 

What made you decide to be an engineer?

I was always interested in and good at maths and science, so was inclined towards a scientific discipline from a young age. My father is a Mechanical Engineer, so I was exposed to the field from early on. Although my father specialises in pneumatic systems, which didn’t excite me in the least, and I thought that’s what all engineers do. In primary school, we learned about Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian woman in space and that’s where I became interested in aerospace engineering. Initially, I wanted to be an astronaut, but I thought aerospace engineering was a good backup plan in case the former didn’t work out! The support and encouragement from my parents and teachers was crucial towards making this decision.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy the fact that there is significant overlap between the aviation and space sectors in terms of skill sets, priorities and environmental considerations. Previously, I was working on jet engine research at the University of Oxford. I thought it would be much harder to transition from an aviation background to a space career, but it has been relatively smooth and really fun! 

What challenges do you face in your work? Anything specifically as a woman in aerospace?

The challenges are related to being new to Aotearoa NZ. I have been developing relationships and collaborations from scratch, particularly through multiple lockdowns, which has been a bit challenging. But despite that, I have managed to meet some incredibly kind and smart people, all passionate about Aotearoa’s space sector.

​​As a woman in engineering, have you ever had to overcome any gender barriers? What do you think is the reason for these barriers existing?

I have been fortunate enough to have never experienced any overt barriers due to my gender, but I do know they exist. The types of barriers I have faced have been subtler, like my idea not being taken seriously in a meeting until a male colleague repeats it. You can see how that would be difficult to challenge without seeming like a victim, how that could make one more reluctant to speak up and how that reinforces imposter syndrome.

These subtle barriers exist because of people’s outdated perceptions of gender (often backed by dubious science, like quoted in the Google employee’s controversial memo). They also exist because of people’s outdated perceptions of what an engineer looks like, sounds like and what an engineer does. I think men and women internalise these stereotypes equally.

How do you see the future of the aerospace sector? Specifically for women?

Exciting! Just in the last 10 years, the space sector has changed dramatically. Who knows where it will be in another 10-20 years? I think women will have a key role to play in terms of progressing the aerospace sector, whether that’s through engineering, science, law or policy. Ultimately, the benefits of space are for everyone so the workforce of the sector should reflect that through gender, ethnicity, etc.

Is there anything else new since that interview you’d share with young people and women wanting to go into the aerospace industry?

Consider joining the newly formed Women in Space Aotearoa New Zealand network! We hope to have plenty of opportunities for networking, mentoring and building a community across the country of diverse women interested in space.  

Note: Priyanka’s interview is combined with a previous interview which can be found here in Volume 5, Issue 1 of Cogent Engineering Journal.

Meet Up #20: The Roaring Twenties

Meet Up #20: The Roaring Twenties

The Roaring Twenties are upon us, and we had yet another excellent line-up of speakers for our next Meet Up!

With incredible aerospace potential to be found right here in New Zealand, we heard from local innovators about the new technologies that are launching aerospace further than it’s ever been before.

Brought to you by our Silver Sponsor, Dark Matter.

The Honourable Dr Megan Woods
MP for Wigram and Minister of Energy and Resources, Greater Christchurch Regeneration, Housing, and Research, Science and Innovation

Minister Woods joined us via Zoom for an exciting announcement of a $12 million investment to support aerospace innovation.

Power Hungry: The Limitless Potential Of Deployable Energy Systems In Space
Fia Jones, CEO, Astrix Astronautics

We empower revolutionary missions in small satellites by providing the high power systems they need. Astrix’ deployable power system makes deployment in space simple and reliable. With the mass and volume constraints on small satellites, our technology dramatically boosts the capability of satellite functionality.

You’re Too Smart For Your Own Good 
Kaushik P. Kumar, Managing Partner, Dark Matter

So how do you take complex information and make it digestible and engaging for your fellow humans? Find out in this entertaining and insightful talk about the world of Dark Matter and Dark Spaces.

Scalable, Reliable And Sustainable Drone Logistics
Richard Adams, General Manager NZ,Swoop Aero

Swoop Aero was founded to change the way the world moves by making access to the air seamless, providing the world’s leading technology platform for scalable, reliable and sustainable drone logistics. Richard will discuss Swoop Aero’s operations and impact around the world, with over 10,000 flights to date delivering 310,000 individual items across networks that reach 2 million people. He will also discuss what the future holds for Swoop Aero, both in New Zealand and globally. 

Thanks again to our Silver Sponsor Dark Matter.