$14.7m for space centre

Tim Cadogan.
Tim Cadogan.
An Alexandra satellite research centre could be operational by the middle of next year.

There was elation in Central Otago yesterday as Minister for Science and Innovation Steven Joyce announced a grant of up to $14.7million over four years for the Centre for Space Science Technology (CSST).

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan called the announcement a ''game-changer'' for Alexandra and Central Otago, and said the centre, which would boost Alexandra's economy by an estimated $2.8million to $3.6million a year in its first three years, was ''up next to the gold rush''.

Greg Bodeker.
Greg Bodeker.
Other Central Otago leaders said it would attract high-calibre people and other businesses and have multiple flow-on benefits.

The centre will be based in Alexandra, with offices in Dunedin, New Plymouth and Lincoln and will create about 70 to 80 jobs, half in Alexandra.

The proposition includes launching New Zealand's first satellites into space, probably through Auckland-based company Rocket Lab.

The date was uncertain, but it would not happen for a few years, Greg Bodeker, director of research company Bodeker Scientific, said. The company led the group applying for the funding.

The centre will work with New Zealand industries to provide tailored information, at first using data from existing international satellites, then from those it builds and owns.

Research areas will include irrigation and agriculture, snow and ice, oceans and atmosphere, regional planning and hazard management, data telemetry and forestry.

The best case scenario would be ''cutting the ribbon'' at the Alexandra office on July 1 next year, Dr Bodeker said.

''It's just a matter of when [government] funding starts to flow.''

Before then, a charitable trust to own the company would be formed and a board of directors, a chairman and a chief executive would be appointed.

He did not know what his role would be within the project. It would depend on what the trust wanted him to do.

Announcing the funding at a business breakfast in Alexandra yesterday, Mr Joyce said venturing into the space industry was exciting for New Zealand as a whole.

''What people don't understand is space is already a multibillion-dollar industry.''

The research potential, for example in precision agriculture, would be very beneficial for New Zealand industries.

The centre would ''put Alexandra on the map'' as a hub for small and medium high-tech businesses, he said.

''In its proposal . . . CSST presented a strong business case that will support the development and growth of New Zealand's space economy by filling critical gaps in the collection and processing of New Zealand's satellite data.

A standout aspect of the proposal was that research hubs would be spread across regions, he said.

Central Otago District Council economic development manager Warwick Hawker said an important spinoff of the project was other businesses seeing the merit in locating in Alexandra.

The council provided $20,000 in seed money for the project.

Alexandra Clyde and Districts Business Group chairman Barry Hambleton said the people it attracted would benefit local businesses.

The centre would show Central Otago had a great scientific future, Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dougal McGowan said.

Steering group chairman Barrie Wills said he was ''elated for Central Otago'', especially since the group was uncertain at the beginning whether it would receive funding.

The centre is being funded through the Government's Regional Research Institutes scheme.

Southland application Earth+Vantage, which proposed research using satellite and ground-based data for primary industry, made it to the shortlist of three, but was not funded.

However, an additional $2.3 million was set aside for potential collaboration between it and the Alexandra-based centre.

The centre is the second successful proposal under the Regional Research Institute initiative. The first was the Marlborough-based New Zealand Research Institute of Viticulture and Oenology.


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