Pioneering the future: Kiwi start-ups and the space technology revolution

/ Aspire / Blog + Insights / 13 Oct 2023 / Max Thompson

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Content piece co-written by Max Thompson (Investment Manager) and Jordan Kimpton (Senior Investment Analyst).

In the vast expanse of space, our tiny islands of New Zealand may seem like an unlikely player in the grand cosmos. However, the emergence of space technology as a frontier for innovation has presented an exciting opportunity for Kiwi start-ups to make their mark on the world stage.

What was once a pipedream for Kiwis, working in the aerospace industry is now a reality. Supported by governmental initiatives such as the Aotearoa New Zealand Space Strategy and the New Zealand Space Agency, Kiwi founders and companies are at the forefront of addressing global climate concerns through cutting-edge space-tech solutions. After attending the New Zealand Aerospace Summit 2023, we've wrapped up the current space-tech layout for entrepreneurs ...

Government backing:

New Zealand's commitment to space technology is exemplified by the Aotearoa New Zealand Space Strategy, which outlines our nation's goals in the space sector. This strategy focuses on three key pillars that aim to address national interest, economic growth, sustainability, and knowledge and skills within this sector. These pillars set the stage for a vibrant space ecosystem in New Zealand, fostering innovation and collaboration among academia, industry, and government.

The New Zealand Space Agency, established in 2016, plays a pivotal role in implementing this strategy. The agency acts as a facilitator, regulator, and advocate for space activities within the country. Its dedication to nurturing space technology initiatives has paved the way for local start-ups to thrive.

New Zealand’s advantage in space technology:

We have made significant strides in the rocket launch industry, positioning ourselves alongside global giants like the USA, China, and Russia. Several factors have contributed to New Zealand's emergence as a leading player in rocket launches;

  • Geographic advantage:  We have large surrounding oceans and minimal levels of air traffic, and with our location being far south of the equator, it allows for more efficient access to a wide range of orbital inclinations. Launching from New Zealand can optimise trajectories, making it ideal for deploying satellites into polar orbits and sun-synchronous orbits.
  • Regulatory environment:  The New Zealand Space Agency is commited to streamlining launch approvals and fostering innovation.
  • Cost-efficiency:  Kiwi start-ups like Rocket Lab have developed innovative, cost-effective launch solutions. Smaller rockets like the Electron, which Rocket Lab specialises in, offer competitive prices for satellite deployment. This cost-efficiency has made New Zealand an attractive launch destination for both commercial and government payloads.
  • Sustainability initiatives:  New Zealand's commitment to sustainability extends to its space industry and the considerations for a cleaner, more sustainable approach to space access This is exemplified by companies like Dawn Aerospace's reusable vehicles and green propulsion, and Zenno Astronautics “electrifying” space.
  • Collaboration:  New Zealand actively promotes collaboration between government agencies, research institutions, and private industry. This synergy has led to the development of cutting-edge technologies and innovative solutions in the space-tech sector.
  • Skilled workforce:  With talent such a hurdle for many start-ups, we are lucky to have a world-class student cohort (University of Canterbury recently placed 3rd in the Spaceport America Cup - the largest student rocket engineering conference in the world), and specialised student pathways both through the University of Canterbury and University of Auckland. Investment in education and research has yielded a highly skilled workforce in aerospace engineering, making New Zealand an attractive destination for companies looking to tap into local talent.

Kiwi start-ups leading the way with sustainable goals:

Alongside space exploration and the growing interest in space tourism, the leading objective of sending rockets and satellites into space is to provide valuable services (e.g. communication, navigation, national security, commercial payloads), collect data (e.g. studying Earth’s climate and tracking environmental changes and their causes such as rates of deforestation and unreported emissions), and address various needs on Earth and beyond (e.g. renewable energy, drug creation and mining of exotic materials from space). But it's no secret that burning rocket fuel to get to space emits loads of emissions. This is issue is front and centre for the industry, with start-ups trying to make an impact on space-sustainability.

Four Kiwi start-ups have demonstrated their prowess in the space technology sector whilst considering space ethics and the impact on climate change;


New Zealand Aerospace Summit 2023: Key Takeaways

It was evident at The New Zealand Aerospace summit 2023 that this sector is an area of strength and opportunity for New Zealand.

The summit brought together experts, innovators, and policymakers to discuss the future of the space industry in New Zealand. Our key takeaways include;

  • Emphasis on sustainability:  Sustainability emerged as a central theme, with discussions focusing on reducing the environmental impact of space activities and leveraging space technology for climate solutions.
  • Collaboration and innovation:  Participants emphasised the importance of collaboration between government, industry, and academia to drive innovation in the space sector.
  • Talent development:  Developing a skilled and diverse workforce in space technology and aerospace engineering was recognised as essential for New Zealand's continued success in the industry.

So, with this clear support and opportunity for growth, we hope to see more entrepreneurial Kiwis innovating in this space (pun intended) to help drive positive sustainable change that future generations can benefit from.

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Why does our Aspire seed fund look to invest in space technology?

We look to back Kiwi start-ups that present space technological solutions that combat climate change – through solutions that contribute to monitoring land use, emissions, and support scientific breakthroughs – or who are developing new ways of using the world above our heads in a more sustainable way. Our investment support in this sector aligns with the economic growth and sustainability goals in New Zealand's space strategy.

The future of space technology in New Zealand is undeniably bright, and our nation is poised to make a significant impact on climate change mitigation and adaptation through space-tech innovation. The New Zealand Aerospace Summit 2023 has highlighted the importance of sustainability, collaboration, and talent development in this exciting journey.

Building a space-tech start-up in NZ, and seeking funding or support?

Contact our Aspire team

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