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CSST goes airborne – on board NASA’s flying scientific observatory

By Xerra News Cat

In mid-June Steve Cotter, CSST CEO and Dr Delwyn Moller, CSST Director of Research were invited on board the NASA SOFIA flying observatory to witness space observations from a whole new perspective.

SOFIA stands for Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, and consists of a Boeing 747SP aircraft, modified to carry a 2.5 metre, 17 tonne telescope to altitudes of 14-17 kilometres, above the terrestrial water vapour layer.

The SOFIA is based out of Christchurch for eight weeks a year, to study celestial objects best viewed from the Southern Hemisphere. Observations over this year’s flights out of Christchurch include “targets that are too low to observe or not visible at all from the Northern Hemisphere – including our neighbouring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, the centre of our own Milky Way galaxy, and Saturn’s moon Titan,” according to NASA.

“In the Southern Hemisphere, the centre of our Milky Way galaxy is almost directly overhead, putting it in a prime location for us to observe it,” said Jim De Buizer, Universities Space Research Association’s SOFIA senior scientist. “We can also see the Magellanic Clouds, which have an environment similar to the early universe, letting us study star formation there as a proxy for what it was like in the early universe.”

Steve and Delwyn were invited on board the SOFIA as special guests on the 22 June flight, along with five others from a variety of organisations across New Zealand, including Air New Zealand.

They joined scientists, astronomers and crew on board the 10-hour, overnight flight.

“It was an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Steve. “I’ve been to telescopes on mountaintops in Chile and Hawaii, but never one in the air. ”

Steve, Delwyn and other guests were given a tour of the aircraft, after being briefed by the crew.
The telescope was the most impressive aspect of the aircraft, said Steve. Once the plane reaches the correct altitude, above the water vapour layer of the atmosphere, “the hatch opens up so the telescope is peering directly into space,” Steve said. “As an aeronautical engineer, I know that it’s no small feat to engineer that setup without compromising the integrity of the airframe – so that the airflow over the opening doesn’t cause turbulence and move the telescope. It has to have pinpoint accuracy.”

The observations recorded by the telescope are what helps us learn more about our universe, the Milky Way galaxy, the origins of stars and the characteristics of galaxies beyond our own.
“From a scientist’s and an engineer’s perspective, it was a privilege to be on board the SOFIA,” said Delwyn. “The construction of the instrumentation was second to none, and the work being done on board is enhancing our understanding of space and celestial bodies.”

In addition to the scientific work on board, Steve also commented on the skill of the pilots. “[The pilots] explained that they sometimes need to be within a few kilometres of a specific location above Earth, within just a few seconds (sometimes it’s a short as two seconds!) to observe a certain event.” For example, he continued, “in order to take measurements of the atmosphere of Jupiter the telescope needs to be in a precise location, at a precise time, when Jupiter passes in front of a certain star, in order to take the measurements.”

Overall, both Steve and Delwyn, commented that they felt honoured to be invited on board the SOFIA, and build a stronger relationship with the team at NASA, as often of the work they do overlaps with ours – finding new ways to collect, process and analyse Earth observation data, and apply those learnings in a way that benefits science, business, government and humanity as a whole.

SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a 106-inch diameter telescope. It is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, DLR. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the SOFIA program, science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart. The aircraft is based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Hangar 703, in Palmdale, California.

For more information on the NASA SOFIA and the scientific observations being done during its time in New Zealand, visit the SOFIA mission page on the NASA website.

Meet ActInSpace NZ’s winning teams!

By Xerra News Cat

ActInSpace NZ was a tremendous success, with nine teams made up of 42 individuals presenting a new space technology idea after 24 hours of furious coding, planning and pitching.

First place went to Te Mārama, whose startup idea will reduce the amount of repairs that humans do in space by cost effectively using VR to control repair robots remotely. Te Mārama is made of five team members – Mahima Seth (Auckland), Ben Tairea (Wellington), Maddy King (Wellington), Zeus Engineer (Christchurch) and Jonah Belk (Dunedin).

Te Mārama will be going to Toulouse to compete in the international ActInSpace finals.

ActInSpace NZ was organised by the Centre for Space Science Technology (CSST) in partnership with New Zealand Space Agency and ChristchurchNZ and support from the French Embassy in New Zealand.

The 24 hour long hackathon asked participants to reimagine existing space technology and data into new applications. The New Zealand event was one of 71 similar events that took place simultaneously around the world. Visit to find out more about the international competition.

The winning team will travel to France on 27 June to pitch their startup idea to an international panel of judges at the ActInSpace International Final at the Toulouse Space Show.

Five students (15-16 year olds) from Dunstan High School in Alexandra (where CSST is based) participated in the hackathon and came in a very close second. Team “underage” pitched an augmented reality app that would allow artists a place to connect to commercial opportunities while reducing graffiti in the real world.

Team “underage” collect second prize from the Hon Megan Woods.

Judges, mentors and organisers were all really impressed by the creative and commercial savvy the high school team displayed. The New Zealand Space Agency and CSST have been working closely with Airbus in France to facilitate a very special opportunity to pitch their idea during the Toulouse Space Show. They won’t compete in the final but will be able to pitch their idea in front of an international audience of startup investors and key space industry players and learn from the experience.

The New Zealand Space Agency has agreed to cover the cost of the students trip to Toulouse, and the students were surprised with that news at a special school assembly last Friday morning.

From space to the South Island

By Xerra News Cat

US Air Force Colonel and NASA astronaut Michael S Hopkins spent six months on the International Space Station (ISS), and is now working on technology to launch crew to the space station from the United States.

In April Col. Hopkins visited New Zealand and travelled to Alexandra to have lunch with the CSST team and a group from the local science and business communities. While in town he also gave a public talk about his experiences as an astronaut to a sold out crowd at the Alexandra Community Centre and Memorial Theatre.

NASA astronaut Col. Michael S Hopkins speaks to a packed audience in Alexandra.

Mike was selected by NASA as an astronaut in 2009, and as a member of the Expedition 37/38 crew he logged 166 days in space. He launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station (ISS) in September 2013.

During his stay aboard the ISS, he did two spacewalks, totalling 12 hours and 58 minutes, to change out a degraded pump module. “It was an incredible feeling… everyone has a goal to be able to do (a space walk) but on the other hand they are a lot of work. It is hard. It can also be stressful, it can be a little nerve wrecking, very intense, very focussed when you are out the door… it’s a huge mental game.”

He painted a vivid picture of life on the ISS, and got plenty of questions about the day-to-day activities on board. One person asked what the team did for fun. “Two things,” said Mike, “you go and look at the map to work out what part of the world the ISS is currently travelling over. If it’s a place you’re interesting in, like your hometown or somewhere you want to visit, you take pictures. The other thing you do is head down to the food quarters and catch up on email, or call home.”

Mike spoke to his wife every day he was on the space station, although with two kids in five different sports team and a Master’s degree on her plate, she didn’t always have time to talk to him! If that was the case he would read or watch movies.

The team at CSST were delighted to see just how many people were interested in Col. Hopkins talk and getting a chance to ask questions or get a photo with him. “Overall we felt the event was a great success because of the opportunity it afforded the young people of our community,” said Delwyn Moller, CSST Director of Research and former NASA engineer.

Delwyn continued, “One of the goals of the NASA outreach programme is to get young people excited about science, technology, engineering and maths, and be inspired to dream big and work hard to achieve those goals. We were so pleased to see the number of students who attended Col. Hopkins talk, the enthusiasm that they brought and excellent questions that they asked. That’s what events like this are all about.”

Year 5-6 students from Alexandra Primary School singing “I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing)”.

Craig Grant from the Otago Museum said he was “so pleased with the turnout, and the care given to welcoming Col. Hopkins to the Alexandra community. The International Space Station song sung by the Year 5-6 students from Alexandra Primary and the full audience participation in the waiata was a wonderful welcoming gesture from the community.”

Col. Hopkins left Alexandra to continue on his whirlwind tour of Otago, doing an evening talk in Queenstown, before flying back to Houston the following day.

Col. Michael S Hopkins with the team from the Centre for Space Science Technology who organised the event.

CSST and Spire partnership – bringing AIS data to the Pacific

By Xerra News Cat

CSST and Spire Global Inc., a leading space-to-cloud data analytics company, have announced a strategic partnership to help both organisations further extend their impact in the South Pacific region.

CSST is planning to use Spire’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) data, collected from its ever increasing constellation of satellites, to improve maritime situational awareness throughout the South Pacific Ocean and beyond.

“We are very excited to partner with Spire and promote this innovative technology and satellite data across a wide number of industries in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands,” says Rafael Kargren, CSST’s director of operations. “Much of our economy in this part of the world depends on reliable ship transportation, making the use of AIS technology a necessity. ”

AIS technology is already widely used around the globe, however Spire’s satellite data enhances the existing technology, allowing the tracking of vessels at any time and in any location, which is very useful to identify illegal boats or missing vessels.

CSST plans to use AIS data in a wide range of areas across the South Pacific including fishing, fleet monitoring and control, vessel tracking and collision avoidance, maritime security, cargo tracking, search and rescue operations and accident investigation.

CSST is the sole provider of Spire’s AIS data in New Zealand and the South Pacific, and is currently in talks with potential users such as the New Zealand government, military and port authorities.

About Spire Global Inc.
Spire Global Inc. is a space-to-cloud data analytics company that utilises proprietary satellite data and algorithms to provide the most advanced maritime, aviation and weather tracking in the world. Spire’s data analytics is backed by a wholly owned and developed constellation of nanosatellites, global ground station network and 24/7 operations that provide real-time global coverage of every point on Earth over 100 times per day. To learn more, visit:

ActInSpace 2018

By Xerra News Cat

ActInSpace is a contest invented by CNES (French Space Agency) and organised by CNES and ESA (European Space Agency). New Zealand will be joining over 20 countries participating in the 2018 contest on 25-26 May 2018.

ActInSpace is a two-day hackathon event that brings together entrepreneurs, students, innovators, developers and creative minds to solve real world challenges.

Participants form teams of 2-5 people and have 24 hours to solve one of the challenges provided by the organisers. The challenges all involve finding everyday uses for space-developed technologies or space-acquired data.

A team of technical and business mentors support the teams throughout the 24 hours and a jury of experts judge the start-up ideas, selecting a winning team to represent New Zealand at the international final in Toulouse, France.

The New Zealand ActInSpace event will be held in Christchurch and is organised by CSST in partnership with New Zealand Space Agency.  Additional details about the event will be announced in early 2018.

If you are interested in learning more, or becoming involved in ActInSpace in New Zealand, please email

The Second What on Earth Colloquium 6-7 March 2018

By Xerra News Cat

There is a lot of activity on the CSST horizon, including the What on Earth Colloquium, hosted by New Zealand Space Agency and in partnership with Venture Southland, Landcare, LINZ and CSST.  The colloquium will bring together the following individuals and organisations to help shape the future of the space sector in New Zealand:

  • Industry users of land information, including agriculture, forestry, power generation, infrastructure and resource management, particularly business development, R&D and strategic managers
  • Space industry organisations with a focus on satellite and earth observation data
  • Policy makers and agencies with responsibility for environmental management, climate change, primary industries, civil infrastructure, disaster management, defence and related portfolios
  • Research and technical specialists
  • Big data and machine learning specialists

If you’re interested in joining us, registrations open on Friday 8 December.  More info:

December 2017 update

By Xerra News Cat

The first months of CSST’s existence have put us in good stead for our next transition – from business start-up phase to operational.  We’ve had a series of Board meetings and a Trust meeting over the past few months, and are progressing with new hires (intros below).  We continue to actively interview candidates for the Director of Research role.

Much of our activity over the past couple months has been around getting out and talking to people – those involved in the original CSST proposal and others in regional industry, universities and international earth observations organisations as we expand our understanding of what the market is looking for and the products and services we might develop.  This work has led to our first purchase order for satellite imagery from Northern Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR) to assist with repairs to earthquake-damaged roads.

Rafael, Emma and Steve attended the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide from 25-29 September.  It was a good opportunity to get the pulse of the global space industry and the disruption occurring with the emergence of entrepreneurial space companies.

Since then we have participated in several workshops and events, including:

  • South Australia Space Forum;
  • 2017 Met Soc Annual Conference;
  • Winegrower’s Research Centre researchers stakeholder meeting;
  • Antarctic Season Opening;
  • Central Otago Innovation Hub workshop; and
  • the FAST! strategy workshop to promote closer research collaboration between New Zealand and France.

We are looking forward to the year ahead, especially the second What on Earth Colloquium and the international ActInSpace hackathon.

Thank you to all of you who have supported CSST from it’s inception, those who have a vested interest in our success, and those who are just interested in what we’re up to.  We wish you all a relaxing and fun-filled holiday season.

September 2017 update

By Xerra News Cat

We’ve been quiet but busy here at CSST, getting things set up and running. Many of you may already be aware of the progress over the past few months, but here’s a brief summary, to bring everyone up to speed…

Our Board of Trustees (Brian Sanders, Tony Lepper, Bridgit Hawkins, Peter McComb and David Smillie) were appointed in March 2017, and The Space Science Technology Trust was incorporated as a Trust Board.

The Board of Directors (Stephen Davies Howard, Ian Boddy, Maria King, Andy Pearce, and Melanie Templeton) were appointed in April 2017, and the company, Centre for Space Science Technology Ltd, is now incorporated.

The CSST office in Alexandra has been up and running since the beginning of July, and we look forward to welcoming new staff to join us in this space over the coming months.

Director of Commercial and Technical Operations announced – Rafael Kargren

By Xerra News Cat

We are particularly pleased to announce the appointment of Rafael Kargren as the Director of Commercial and Technical Operations at CSST. The Board learned about Rafael during the recruitment process for the CEO, and immediately recognised a unique skill set ideally suited to this role.

Rafael has spent more than 25 years in the telecommunications and space satellite industries. He was the Executive Vice President and Head of Asia and Pacific Region for the Swedish Space Corporation. He established, developed and grew the business with commercial and government sectors in Asia and Pacific. Before moving into the space industry, he worked at Ericsson, where he oversaw global telecommunication operations. Rafael’s main focus was introducing new services and products.

“I’m very excited to join CSST and help put New Zealand on the international space map. My focus in the first months will be to establish good working relationships with local and international partners and collaborators, as well as to establish a space-based imagery depository that can benefit different industries across New Zealand”.

We are honoured that Rafael accepted the role and we look forward to working alongside him.