Countdown begins until blast off

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LIFT OFF: Monday marks the start of a ten-day launch window from Rocket Lab's Mahia Peninsula Launch Complex 1. PHOTO/FILE

By Victoria White

History could be made in Hawke's Bay next week, but it will be hard for any locals to bear witness to it.

Monday signals the start of a 10-day launch window in which Rocket Lab will attempt a world-first by sending their Electron rocket into orbit from a private launch facility.

The Auckland-based company has planned three test launches before commercial satellite launches are to be offered later this year.

Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck said the test launch attempt would collect valuable data to inform future test and commercial launches.

"We are all incredibly excited to get to this point. Our talented team has been preparing for years for this opportunity and we want to do our best to get it right.

"Our number one priority is to gather enough data and experience to prepare for a commercial phase. Only then can we start delivering on our mission to make space more accessible."

Unfortunately for those keen to witness the first test launch in the coming days, there will not be any viewing opportunities due to the remote location of the northern Hawke's Bay launch site.

Launch Complex One is located at the tip of Mahia Peninsula - the remote location was chosen as it meant more satellites could be launched, and more frequently.

However, its location means the complex from where New Zealand will become the 11th country to put a satellite into orbit is not visible from any publicly accessible sites.

And during the test phase the peninsula's main road will be closed to the general public, and exclusion zones have been put in place in the air, and sea around the site.

While Rocket Lab have been encouraging eager space enthusiasts to stay away from the site during the test period, Wairoa District Council do have plans in place for those not easily deterred.

During the test phase they will be running a marshalling area near Nuhaka to manage traffic attempting to go into Mahia.

Council economic development and engagement manager Kitea Tipuna said they had set up an area at Blucks Pit with information and amenities where any visitors could attempt to view the launch.

"The road going out to Mahia is quite narrow and windy so we're trying to set up some safe locations for any potential visitors to the district," he said.

"We've got some other information there and we're really interested as well in getting their thoughts too about their expectations as visitors to the district and as it relates to the Rocket Lab launch."

Wairoa mayor Craig Little said while there was a lot of excitement about Rocket Lab progressing with launches, he thought this would build once a more concrete launch date was known.

The council were scouting possible viewing locations for when commercial launches began, and would be trialling the Blucks Pit Rd site next week as a possibility.

Wairoa moteliers spoken to by Hawke's Bay Today were not expecting an influx of visitors for the test phase.

As well as ensuring public safety, Rocket Lab has urged spectators to stay away from Mahia due to the high likelihood of launches being "scrubbed".

History has shown it is common for launches to be scrubbed - called off - as small modifications are often required during test phase.

A decision to scrub can be made within a split second of lift off.

This means the company cannot give any indication of when a successful launch might occur - the company has said it's possible it could scrub multiple attempts until it was ready and conditions were favourable.

Luckily, the weather conditions for early next week are looking positive - with MetService predicting most of the week will be fine with light winds.

MetService meteorologist Tom Adams said while the weekend was looking to be quite windy as a front moved up the country, the weather would be improving by Sunday.

"The odds are it will stay good until the end of the week," he said.

Hawke's Bay regional harbourmaster Martin Moore said the exclusion zone extended from the southern tip of Portland Island 12 nautical miles.

The zone will be monitored by Hawke's Bay Regional Council staff in boats, radar coverage, and an aircraft providing surveillance of the area.

- Rocket Lab have asked the public to follow the instructions of emergency services and remain in safe areas during the test launch.

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2 Comments

Balanced-View

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08:54 pm Monday 22 May 2017
Surely under NZ health and safety laws the public should be made aware of a more accurate launch time. This thing could come down anywhere if failed and communication with it lost. Funny how we cant tackle boy racer or student rave party issues but we can lockdown public access to one of our treasured local areas in the name of commercial profit.
Its awesome we have this technology and business here in NZ but no need for over the top security and secrecy.

Z017

- New Zealand
08:53 pm Monday 22 May 2017
Did anyone else in Napier see the slow moving object travelling quite low from east to west in the northern sky on Thursday 18 May at about 7.15pm?
I thought it was a meteor and am wondering if there is any way of working out where it could have hit the earth's surface or was it another satellite ?

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