Inventive pupil aims for the stars

Gore High School pupil Max Balloch is working with the European Space Agency. Photo: Supplied
Gore High School pupil Max Balloch is working with the European Space Agency. Photo: Supplied
Gore teenager Max Balloch has a busy life; studying for NCEA exams, working at his after-school job, and in his spare time co-ordinating an international effort to launch two satellites into space.

‘‘I’m a 16-year-old kid from New Zealand and this morning I’m trying to figure out how to word an email to an electrical engineer from the European Space Agency. It’s pretty nuts.’’

Max, in year 12 at Gore High School, had his imagination fired by a talk by Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck to a secondary schools career event, where Mr Beck promised that if anyone in the audience built a satellite he would launch it for them.

It was a promise Mr Beck, originally from Southland, probably expected not to have to keep, but Max had other ideas.

‘‘I thought what the hell, there’s no harm, what’s the consequence of me trying it?’’

A post on an internet chat app drew an enormous response; in just a few weeks 740 people joined the group. Since, 260 supporters with specialised skills, which included aerospace engineers, and avionics and payload experts, had been divided into teams to work on various parts of the project.

‘‘I thought it might be a small thing, but how it got to this stage already is just amazing,’’ Max said.

While he had not spoken to Mr Beck about his project, Max did have a long conversation with Rocket Lab’s head of communications, and knew the firm was following the progress of his unlikely project.

If the scheme gets off the ground, a Rocket Lab rocket will launch with two satellites on board, each around the size of a Rubik’s Cube.

One satellite will test a theory about whether electro-magnetic tether straps can be used to de-orbit a satellite once it has come to the end of its life, while the other will be a control device.

‘‘We had a discussion about multiple proposals or ideas, some of which had different degrees of feasibility and some of them were just wacky and probably a bit out there considering budget, time , skill and resources, ’’ Max said

‘‘The tether idea, everyone in the community thought it was a great idea; it was feasible, not too expensive, and it actually had some sort of application and helpfulness for real life.’’

In the meantime Max, with more nerves than most students, is hoping for a good result in his NCEA physics exam.

‘‘It’s what I’m passionate about, and space in general I just love ... this community I’m a part of now, the amount of people who are as passionate and as interested in it is just amazing.’’

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