Christchurch based company flies to stratosphere with NASA

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Apr 03, 2024 |

From left: Mark Rocket (Kea Aerospace CEO), Dr Philipp Sueltrop (Kea Aerospace CTO), Bill Nelson (NASA Administrator), Pamela Melroy (Deputy NASA Administrator)

Christchurch-based aerospace venture Kea Aerospace has successfully secured New Zealand government support to collaborate with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Founded in 2018, Kea Aerospace is partnering with NASA Research Centres to advance high-altitude airborne earth observation techniques.

The project will focus on using Kea’s solar-powered stratospheric plane to monitor coastal water quality, a key environmental issue for New Zealand.

Kea Aerospace Chief Scientist Dr. Daniel Price said “New Zealand’s coastal ecosystems are one of its most astonishing and valuable assets.

“New Zealand’s rivers, which all end at the coast, face the constant threat of pollution, principally from agricultural activity.

“There are some pretty powerful satellites on orbit to help us monitor things, but we want to bring things a little closer to home. With Kea Aerospace’s technology, we can monitor things at a much higher resolution than satellites, and that’s what’s exciting to NASA.”

The project, Next-Generation Airborne Remote Sensing: High Altitude Persistent Coastal Ocean Monitoring, or more succinctly HAPCOM, will examine ways to install state-of-the-art camera systems onboard Kea Aerospace’s high-altitude solar-powered aircraft and deliver high resolution images and data back to researchers.

“The aircraft is a lot closer to the earth’s surface than satellites and can therefore achieve a much higher resolution. That means we can see more detail than ever before, and persistently monitor things over an area of interest.”

Kea Aerospace CEO Mark Rocket said “Our aircraft operates in the stratosphere, 50,000 to 65,000 feet up, above all the weather, and is able to provide constant, high-resolution monitoring of coastal areas which satellites struggle to do.

“In the future, we believe our stratospheric aircraft will be a valuable tool in helping develop better policy related to ocean and coastal ecosystems as there will be a huge leap in the quality of the data available for decision-making.”

Kea Aerospace will work directly with colleagues at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Los Angeles and the NASA Ames Research Center near San Francisco.

Kea Aerospace will launch its aircraft from the newly-opened Tāwhaki National Aerospace Centre, south of Christchurch.

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

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