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Advancing Christchurch: The Synergy of Aerospace and Antarctica

Credit: Anthony Powell

ChristchurchNZ’s Antarctica Office had the opportunity recently to sponsor the Aerospace New Zealand Meet-Up – Aerospace in Antarctica. Its purpose is based on a remarkable intersection we have here in Ōtautahi Christchurch: the city serves not only as a Gateway to Antarctica but also as a portal to space. The linking of these two communities presents a distinct Ōtautahi opportunity for our city and the National Antarctic Programmes that call it home.

Antarctic science and research have global significance. They offer invaluable insights into our planet's future and aims to unravel the complexities of climate dynamics, biodiversity, and oceanic processes, crucial for understanding and mitigating the impacts of environmental change.

The Aerospace Meet Up brought together leaders in space, science, and business to explore the cutting-edge aerospace technologies being used on the icy continent. It featured presentations from Antarctic Science leaders, showcasing how they leverage Aerospace technology. Speakers included Associate Professor at University of Canterbury, Michelle La Rue, Chief Scientist at Kea Aerospace, Dr Daniel Price, Lead Consultant at Vela Science Christopher Martin and Director of Gateway Antarctica, Prof. Wolfgang Rack.

Prof. Wolfgang Rack

Rack said embracing aerospace technology has always been integral to Gateway Antarctica’s vision.

Having world leaders on our doorstep, ready to support and enhance our scientific endeavours, is unprecedented and adds immeasurable value to our city,"

Prof. Wolfgang Rack

“Having world leaders on our doorstep, ready to support and enhance our scientific endeavours, is unprecedented and adds immeasurable value to our city," he said.

The synergy between the Antarctic and Aerospace communities is evident, with investment in Aerospace technologies revolutionising science and facilitating world-leading research on the ice. Aerospace New Zealand's ambition to become a global Southern Hemisphere gateway to space aligns with advanced aviation development goals, enhancing local capabilities in climate, biodiversity, and ocean research.

The alarming decline in Antarctic sea-ice highlights the urgent need for research and Otautahi's growing aerospace industry offers low-carbon technology for comprehensive Antarctic research.

It’s monitoring not only the ice, but the life on it as well. Aerospace technology has enabled fresh views to study Emperor Penguin colonies that traditional on-ice methods found challenging to achieve. Now, high-resolution satellite monitoring supplements on-ice equipment gives broader access to locations and provides stronger data.

Daniel Price

Antarctica New Zealand's successful traverse, aided by aerospace technology also marks a significant leap in the hands of aerospace technology. The traverse is one of the most dangerous parts of the South Pole, a shear zone located just 40 kilometres from McMurdo Station. The zone contains multiple crevasses which need to be blown up with explosives and then filled with snow. Daniel Price’s role as traverse navigator, was to select safe routes to follow. He used satellite radar images to identify and plot large crevasses which must either be avoided or blown up to create a safe crossing. The team completed the journey safely, a stark contrast to the rudimentary methods of earlier explorations.

David Tayler, Head of Antarctic Office says it’s an exciting and promising time to see synergies develop between local aerospace technology and Antarctic science.

"The future of Antarctic science in Christchurch is UAV flights from Ta Whaki – Kaitorete, on Otautahi's east coast, equipped with Earth observation payloads, offering unprecedented insights into Antarctica and the Southern Ocean," he says, emphasising the city's pivotal role in shaping scientific endeavours.

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