US based LeoLabs chose Ruamoko Innovation for their expertise to build the first Space Radar in Aotearoa New Zealand
LeoLabs is a provider of commercial radar tracking services for objects in Low Earth Orbit. They aim to build a network of over 20 radars to protect satellites and other objects in low earth orbit from collisions with debris. Aerospace Christchurch had the privilege to speak to Ruamoko Innovation’s Managing Director, Julian Ramsay. Ruamoko Innovation delivered Engineering Consulting Services for the design of the space radar structures, and is working with LeoLabs to deliver a ‘next generation of (space) radars.’
When asked about Ruamoko’s involvement with the project, Ramsay mentioned ‘Ruamoko delivers primarily the Engineering Consulting for the design of the space radar structures, this includes input on the locating, positioning, foundations and superstructure, civil engineering design for each global site.’ He specifically noted the increased complexity due to the international nature of building Space Radar’s with LeoLabs.
‘Our role is much broader than it would typically be for a building as the radars must be built with incredibly low tolerances for operational movement. Each site is completely different, and we are usually bound by a completely new set of local regulations at each site.’
Ruamoko Innovation’s Managing Director Julian Ramsay
‘The most enjoyable part of the project is having a direct impact on the accuracy of the space debris mapping, and working with the project team. Our work has led to a genuine improvement in locating space debris with greater accuracy,’ Ramsay says. When Russia fired a space missile into its own satellite in November 2021, it was the Kiwi Space Radar that picked up the debris. This debris lead to the seven-member ISS crew to take shelter in the docked capsule for hours, as a precaution.
We asked Ramsay on the specific differences between typical structural engineering projects Ruamoko would be working on compared to the Kiwi Space Radar. “The radar projects involve a much wider scope than typical structural engineering, and the structures are governed by a performance based specification (which we helped to define) rather than a safety governed criteria. Obviously safety is checked, but doesn’t typically govern the design of the structures.”
‘We work extremely closely with LeoLabs in refining every detail to ensure absolute best performance from the radars, whilst taking into account constructability, durability of dissimilar materials, thermal effects etc’
Ruamoko Innovation’s Managing Director Julian Ramsay
Ramsay noted the possibilities for growth in the Aerospace Sector right here in Aotearoa New Zealand. ‘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 Innovation is very excited about growing opportunities in this sector and with the increasing number of space and technology projects on our books we can only see us becoming more involved in this sector.’
‘In addition, aerospace has been nominated as one of Christchurch’s “Global Growth Opportunity Cluster” 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.’
Ruamoko Innovations 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.
Ruamoko Innovation’s Managing Director Julian Ramsay
Ruamoko Innovation also won one of the Ace Awards in 2020, for their work on the Kiwi Space Radar
We questioned Ramsay on how he got to where he is now, to which he said ‘I studied structural engineering at the University of Canterbury and started a company Ruamoko Solutions shortly after graduating and prior to the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011. The earthquakes were a turning point which allowed us to focus on bespoke and creative solutions to complex problems, and our company won a number of awards for innovation, particularly in new seismic technology. Taking the same innovative approach, and using some of Ruamoko Solutions wealth of talented staff who are gifted in a pragmatic yet highly technical engineering approach, we started a sister company called Ruamoko Innovation to deal specifically with space and defense type projects.’
Ruamoko Innovation and the New Zealand Space Radar are just another example of a Kiwi success in the Aerospace Sector. Furthermore, they are evidence of the significant growth and opportunities for the Aerospace Sector, not only in Canterbury but also across Aotearoa New Zealand.
Recently we held our inaugural New Zealand Aerospace Summit at Te Pae in Ōtautahi Christchurch. The event brought together individuals from every walk of Aerospace, to showcase some of the latest and greatest innovations happening right here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Some of our keynote speakers included Deputy Director of NASA, Pamela Melroy, and Peter Beck from Rocket Lab, and in addition to keynote speakers, we also hosted a number of panel discussions spanning everything from Women in Space to Aerospace and High-Altitude Policy. Be sure to check out the post-event recap video here!
The New Zealand Aerospace Summit was the very first of its kind, being the first Aerospace Summit held here in Aotearoa New Zealand. With over 300 attendees, from startups, businesses, individuals and passionate students, it’s clear to see that the Aerospace Sector is already taking off. In addition to our already jam-packed lineup of speakers and panels, we included a unique chance for a showcase of Aerospace in New Zealand, through an exhibition room, with actual prototypes from Wisk, Dawn Aerospace, Pyper Vision and Kea Aerospace.
The event opened with a Mihi Whakatau, and speeches from Mayor Dalziel, Kea Aerospace CEO Mark Rocket and NASA Deputy Director Pamela Melroy.
‘I’m so personally thrilled to be speaking to the New Zealand Space Community because you WILL be a critical part of the future‘
NASA Deputy Director Pamela Melroy on the Aerospace Industry in Aotearoa New Zealand
Following the Deputy Director Pamela Melroy’s speech, our second keynote speaker, Peter Beck, CEO and Founder of Rocket Lab delivered another powerful speech on the opportunities that the Aerospace Sector represents, not only to the economy, but also to further humanities reach to the stars. He mentioned a number of projects that Rocket Lab were working on, including a brand new rocket called ‘Neutron,’ but also highlighted the achievements made so far, including the establishment of the Launch Complex on the Mahia Peninsula.
‘I think New Zealand has a huge opportunity in the Space Industry, and if you look across other nations, quite frankly a lot of them look across to New Zealand in absolute admiration’
Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck on Leaders in the Space industry
Following various engaging panels were Minister Nash and Minister Verrall, announcing a brand new Government funding plan for the sector. Minister Nash mentioning ‘Christchurch IS a hub of Aerospace,’ and backing up his support of the sector announcing ‘The Government is pursuing a range of measures to support economic growth, including 8 industry transformation plans that set out a joint path for sectors and the government to grow priority areas of the economy.’
‘The Aerospace Sector is a prime example of the type of innovative high value, R&D intensive industry that can deliver on these goals’
Minister Nash on growing Priority Areas of the Economy
But fear not, the summit was not all speeches and panels, with two networking, and food breaks on the day, and a further post-summit networking drinks event. In addition to the breaks, we put on a number of truly ‘out of this world’ performances, with breakdancing Stormtroopers, alongside a band playing the Star Wars theme, and a performance of David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ and ‘Space Oddity.’ Furthermore reinforcing the importance of Matariki, a performance in a Harakeke was presented. The Harakeke weave symbolizing the gathering of people, the weave of community, culture, past, present and future.
We look forward to hosting our Aerospace Whānau again next year, with a bigger and better summit next year!
NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is being farewelled after ten years of science in the skies with its final visit to Christchurch
This was SOFIA’s seventh visit to Christchurch, and 15 take-off’s were completed around our Southern skies before heading back to its home base California, with the SOFIA programme ending on September 30.
The modified Boeing 747 aircraft is a joint project between NASA and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and is fitted out with a special door built to open mid-flight for use of observational instruments, including a 2.7 metre reflecting telescope.
Flying above 99 percent of the water vapour in Earth’s atmosphere at 38,000 – 45,000 feet, SOFIA is able to collect infrared radiation, which is absorbed by water vapour and doesn’t reach ground-based observatories. SOFIA flies 10-hour overnight missions, and studies a range of objects and phenomena, including cosmic rays, stellar feedback, and cosmic magnetic fields using two instruments – a High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera Plus (HAWC+), and a German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT).
“Prior to moving to Christchurch, I worked for SOFIA as a Science Flight Planner, Mission Director and Mission Operations Manager overseeing the science ground support team,” says Karina Leppik, who worked on SOFIA while it was in Christchurch this year.
While SOFIA is in Christchurch this year, I am helping with various aspects of the mission including flying as an assistant to the Mission Director and assisting with the science ground support, and I’m excited to help the SOFIA team take data that will finish off some groundbreaking science projects.” Just one of the many groundbreaking science projects include HAWC+.
Using HAWC+, SOFIA’s investigations have started by mapping the magnetic fields of the central regions of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Able to detect cosmic magnetic fields on many scales, including star formation scales, SOFIA will be looking at magnetic fields in filaments of material in our galaxy. Filaments are thread-like structures full of cold gas and dust, and a team of scientists will be researching what role magnetic fields play in star formation in filaments (NASA.gov – SOFIA in NZ).
Cosmic rays produced by our sun have been measured and understood by researchers, but those originating outside our solar system are less well understood. Using hydride molecules, scientists are investigating the abundance of cosmic rays in environments outside of our solar system (NASA.gov – SOFIA in NZ).
However due to unprecedented damage to SOFIA, caused by winds shifting a boarding staircase along the aircraft, the team were unable to complete the expected study using GREAT (German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies) on Helium Hydride, while in New Zealand.
As a part of SOFIA’s final stay in Christchurch, we were able to gain some unique insight with the Deputy Director of SOFIA Science Mission Operations, Bernhard Schulz.
“SOFIA made New Zealand its temporary home for a last time to take advantage of the unique visibility conditions of the southern skies, as well as the particular low water vapour content of the atmosphere in the southern winter.”
The water vapour in the air varies depending on the time of year. For example, a pattern observed by NASA’s Earth Observatory shows that water vapour amounts over land areas decrease more in winter months than summer months (NASA.gov – Water Vapour).
In addition to the unconventional operating conditions required, SOFIA can switch between 5 unique instruments that are attached to its perhaps last, large, airplane telescope to observe the far-infrared portion (30µm-300µm) of the spectrum. SOFIA’s unique ability to detect polarised dust with a high degree of accuracy, alongside molecular and atomic spectral lines, makes it a scientific tool like no other.
“SOFIA is also complementary to the newly launched James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which covers the near and mid-infrared up to 28µm,” Bernhard says.
“Even though JWST is a bigger telescope in space and thus far more sensitive, SOFIA still provides additional capabilities in that wavelength range, not available to JWST, like high resolution spectroscopy and bright source imaging.”
There have been many important discoveries made by SOFIA, Bernhard says, but the one most noted in the scientific world was the first observation of Helium Hydride. This was first observed by SOFIA on a mission in Palmdale, USA.
“Helium hydride is deemed to be the first molecule that formed after the Big Bang. SOFIA also detected a number of other species in the interstellar medium for the first time, but also atomic oxygen in the upper atmosphere (mesosphere and thermosphere) of our own planet, which has important implications for climate models.”
If you’re interested in the other scientific discoveries made by SOFIA, have a look at the brochure on the SOFIA website.
Thursday 23 June. The winner of the Christchurch Aerospace Challenge was announced at an awards ceremony yesterday, which showcased the rising talent working on aerospace innovations across New Zealand with a focus on aerial imagery technology.
UAS & Woods was selected as the winner from an impressive pool of local innovators, and was awarded a $30,000 contract with the Christchurch City Council to trial and validate their solution, which will deliver radical improvements to the way the organisation captures aerial imagery.
UAS & Woods developed innovative, smart mapping pods that can be rapidly deployed on a range of aircraft to gather fast aerial mapping data in a more sustainable way. Christchurch City Council Smart Christchurch Manager Michael Healy says the winning idea has exciting potential.
“Aerial imagery is important for decision-making in cities and regions, but the current process is slow and costly. This solution will improve that process and be invaluable for work the Council carries out, such as 3D modelling and monitoring air pollution and water levels.”
UAS & Woods says it was a privilege to be selected from such a high calibre of finalists.
“We are really excited to continue our journey of innovation, and can’t wait to get our system out mapping Canterbury. Thank you to the challenge organisers and judges for such a great competition.”
As well as being a way to find technological solutions to real life problems, the challenge aims to develop a strong pipeline of innovation to support Canterbury’s growing and globally successful aerospace sector.
Nick Bryan, Acting GM Strategy, Insights and Policy of ChristchurchNZ says that as the city’s economic development agency, they have been on a mission to ignite bold ambition in Ōtautahi Christchurch.
“The aerospace sector has jumped on board our ship and launched this bold ambition right alongside us. We have all the right ingredients for our own sustainable aerospace and future transport industry and we are showing the world how it’s done.”
Alexandra Stuthridge, Commercialisation Manager at the Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet), says it’s fantastic to see the aerospace community gather to support Aotearoa’s strong pipeline of aerial innovation.
“New Zealand’s aerospace sector is stretching what’s possible for global aerospace technology and capability. We are delighted to support the 2022 Christchurch Aerospace Challenge, gathering bright minds, and getting their world-leading ideas recognised and ready to disrupt aerial imagery capture globally.”
UAS & Woods was one of three finalists, who were each awarded $10,000 grants in an earlier judging round to develop their innovative ideas. They received mentoring and support from Challenge partners and the local innovation ecosystem to help progress their proposals.
The two runners-up were Swoop Aero and Versatile Airborne Radars. Swoop Aero’s proven technology platform has safely delivered over 800,000 items across 14,500 flights in seven countries since 2017. For this Challenge, Swoop adapted their technology to a new use case, aerial data collection, to help build and strengthen the world-leading aerospace industry in Christchurch.
Versatile Airborne Radars proposed a versatile snow radar for drones and aircrafts augmenting satellite information in the vertical dimension, to address the challenge of losing snow and ice that our world is facing.
The three finalists pitched their solutions to an expert judging panel at the awards ceremony held at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand.