AUT University takes crucial role in first private space mission

23 May, 2012
AUT University takes crucial role in first private space mission
AUT will monitor the flight of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon space craft

AUT University is proud to be playing an integral role in the first private space flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

AUT's Institute for Radio Astronomy and Space Research will monitor space flights for California-based  SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) which launched its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon space craft from Cape Canaveral on Tuesday 22nd May at 7.44 pm New Zealand time (3.44am EST).

Initial flights will deliver cargo but SpaceX will later transport ISS crews and eventually expand its service to private tourists.

AUT’s IRASR was approached by SpaceX to assist with the venture due to its geographical location and the fact that it has worked extensively with space agencies worldwide including NASA, ESA (European Space Agency), the Russian Space Agency and JAXA (Japanese Space Agency).

AUT’s radio astronomy observatory north of Auckland will track the spacecraft and translate critical operating data between it and its operational headquarters throughout the flight. 

SpaceX mission operations engineer Steve Mance says, “AUT’s station will play an extremely important role in the mission and we are incredibly excited to have the IRASR as part of the team.”

Director of the IRASR, Professor Sergei Gulyaev, says, “We will monitor the flight from launch to re-entry, and provide a communication channel throughout.

“New Zealand’s unique location in the South Pacific means we will be able to see the spacecraft before the SpaceX team, and therefore be able to give them important information for its landing."

In preparation for the project AUT’s space scientists have been carrying out tests with the ISS monitoring satellites and other spacecraft.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is a two-stage booster standing about 55 meters tall and topped with the company’s unmanned Dragon space capsule. This gumdrop-shaped capsule will complete the trip to the ISS, where a crew of astronauts will pluck it from space using a robotic arm. The Dragon will then be attached to the orbiting complex by the robotic arm.

The craft launched from Cape Canaveral (the old NASA launch site) in the United States. It will deliver 2,500 kilograms of food, water and other cargo to the 16-nation outpost, a capability the United States gave up when it retired the space shuttle last year.

Video of SpaceX launch

Falcon 9 launch vehicle

Dragon spacecraft

AUT’s Institute of Radio Astronomy and Space Research (IRASR)