The search for New Zealand’s top space talent has come to an end, with the winner of the 2018 NZ Space Challenge announced in Christchurch tonight.
The inaugural Space Challenge was won by GPS Control Systems with their concept of a Global Navigation Satellite System to help heavy tracked vehicles detect and avoid perilous ice shelf crevasses.
Team mastermind John Ahearn was present to collect $40k in prize money, plus six months of desk space at a local incubator and access to mentorship.
The Space Challenge brought together some of the brightest minds from across the country to find innovative technological solutions to navigating the extreme environments of Antarctica and outer space.
Mr Ahearn, who represented Auckland, Northland and Bay of Plenty, said he was very excited to win the award and it was a daunting task to get up and present alongside such talented group of finalists.
“My year seven teacher once told me, when you stop learning, you grow old. So never stop learning,” he told the audience a Christchurch Techweek’18 event on Thursday evening.
"When you stop learning, you grow old. So never stop learning,” - John Ahearn, winner of the NZ Space Challenge
Ahearn says he's always been fascinated by Antarctica and recently visited the Antarctic on a field trip as part of a post-graduate certificate in Antarctic studies at The University of Canterbury.
Four other regional finalists presented innovative designs including a Pokémon GO-style augmented reality system by Christchurch's JIX Limited and Orbica Limited, Kiwi Orbitals with a suborbital rocket, UTIG Cryo Group with their airborne ice penetrating radar, and Dunedin's Deep Space Labs with a multi-spectral data analysis technique using artificial intelligence.
The NZ Space Challenge was the brain child of space enthusiasts and entrepreneurs, Eric Dahlstrom and Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom, who established SpaceBase with fellow co-founder Rich Bodo.
SpaceBase partnered with economic development agency ChristchurchNZ to deliver this national challenge, sponsored by AntarcticaNZ, and the winner was announced as part of ChristchurchNZ’s Techweek’18 event, Extreme Environments – from Antarctica to Space.
SpaceBase co-founder Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom says whittling the five finalists down to just one winner had been hard for the panel of national and international judges listening to the pitches.
“All the concepts presented would have an impact on solving navigation issues in the Antarctic, and the opportunities presented by innovative use of advanced technologies were very exciting to the judges.”
ChristchurchNZ chief executive Joanna Norris congratulated all five finalists on the high calibre of their presentations.
“We have seen some mind-blowing solutions to the challenge today,” Ms Norris says.
“The NZ Space Challenge demonstrates the strength of our emerging and exciting space industry that builds on our traditional manufacturing expertise and strong tech sector.
“This resonates strongly with the city’s unique and important role as one of only five global gateways to Antarctica,” Ms Norris says.
Antarctica New Zealand chief executive Peter Beggs said each of the finalists displayed creative solutions for safer navigation across Antarctica.
“This event has been an amazing meeting of some of the brightest minds in our science and technology sectors,” Mr Beggs says. “Antarctica New Zealand offers our warmest congratulations to John Ahearn from GPS Control Systems, the grand final winner, for his innovative design.”
The other finalists were:
- Christchurch, Canterbury, Marlborough and West Coast
JIX Limited and Orbica Limited, with their Pokémon GO-style augmented reality system that uses holographs and geospatial datasets to visualise the physical environment and navigate the terrain of Antarctica.
- Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Waikato
Kiwi Orbitals, with their concept of a completely reusable, recoverable, aerospike powered suborbital rocket – designed to carry 4kg to 40km altitude.
- Dunedin, Southland and Otago
Deep Space Labs, who have developed new multi-spectral data analysis techniques, powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence that will allow for safe, quick, and inexpensive science to be conducted across Antarctica and throughout the solar system.
- Wellington, Palmerston North, Wanganui and Taranaki
UTIG Cryo Group, who have based their solution on a proven autonomous airborne radar system, analysis techniques developed for the reconnaissance of the icy moon Europa, and Antarctic demonstrated drone technology.
- The NZ Space Challenge was open to anyone residing in New Zealand, or New Zealand citizens living abroad.