Monday, August 25, 2014

Rockets Away

There are very few space programmes in the world that do not stem from missile research. Japan's is probably the only one. Weirdly enough New Zealand has just woken up to the fact it actually has one.

http://www.rocketlabusa.com/

Is not an American firm. It's a Kiwi firm based in Auckland and its planning to shake up the satellite launch business with a totally new rocket engine and carbon fibre rockets. The net result is the firm believes it can but a 100kg satellite into a 500km low earth orbit for $6 million instead of the usual $150 million.

The ability to launch LEO reconnaisance satellites from New Zealand should not escape the defence, civil defence and environmental agencies in New Zealand. Quite apart from being way cool it also changes the whole ball game when it comes to monitoring our extremely large EEZ.

The Rocketlab developed  "Instant Eyes" system is a rocket fired tactical reconaissance system. A strategic system would obviously be bigger but probably could never match anything like the KH-11 Crystal satellite which reportedly cost US$4.4 billion each.

Low Earth Orbit surveillance satellites could be used to carry out disaster impact surveillance, monitor ship emissions in our EEZ, and generally provide a low cost alternative to the Orions.

Plus the benefit of low launch costs is that there is no need to worry about the launched technology becoming obsolete in space. Satellites can be relative cheaper because they can be built using commercial off the shelf technology rather than higher tech spec technology built for a longer life.

If New Zealand was threatened the Electron booster could also launch anti-shipping warheads. A 100kg warhead is not that big in international terms but dropped from 200km up a solid metal terminally guided warhead would make it through re-entry and could make a pretty serious hole in any warship.

While RocketLabs doesn't change what the defence force should do, it may well change how it does things significantly.