Great South plans for Ruakākā satellite ground station abandoned

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Great South plans for Ruakākā satellite ground station abandoned

Great South chief executive Graham Budd at a public meeting in Ruakākā where the agency received stinging criticism of its plans for a satellite ground station.
Photo / Imran Ali

Public backlash has forced an agency planning to build a satellite ground station just south of Whangārei to look elsewhere in Northland for a base to communicate with spacecraft.

Southland’s development and tourism agency Great South wanted to build a mixture of large and small antennas between 3m and 6m high with native trees surrounding the site on Sandford Rd in Ruakākā.

But angry Sandford Rd residents believed the site was unsuitable for satellite dishes, given their close proximity to State Highway 1 and Ruakākā School.

There were plenty of fireworks at a public meeting last week, attended by about 150 locals, at the Ruakākā Recreation Centre where Great South chief executive Graham Budd outlined plans for the ground station.

Yesterday, Budd confirmed the agency has abandoned the Sandford Rd site and was instead searching for another in Northland.

He said the feeling about the project in general was extremely positive but “the site was not right from a Ruakākā community perspective and we have therefore abandoned the Sandford Road site”.

“More than 20 sites in Northland have already been assessed for suitability for a ground station, but due to the strict criteria required, none of the others were suitable. We don’t have a plan B at this stage, so we’re continuing our search.”

He said Great South has been involved in space operations for almost 17 years and its Awarua Ground Station in Southland supported satellite missions and launch campaigns for international space agencies and civilian small satellite companies, including most Rocket Lab launches from Mahia.

Gerry Marshall is among local residents who believe the Sandford Rd site is unsuitable for a satellite ground station.
Photo / Michael Cunningham

Demand for its services has grown and Northland was identified as the best location for a second ground station as it maximised its ability to communicate with more satellites, Budd said.

He said benefits to Northland included becoming part of the rapidly growing space industry, new jobs, work for local contractors and opportunity for youth engagement in space activities.

“This is an important project for Southland, Northland and the whole of New Zealand. But it’s also important to us to have a positive relationship with the community where the project is located.”

Among the site specifications, he said, were a need for flat land with the best possible horizon sight line, close proximity to a fibre connection, and with low electromagnetic and radio frequency interference.

The ground station would consist of mixed-size antennas, ranging from aerials not much bigger than a television aerial to smaller to moderate precision satellite dishes.

Data collected from satellites could be used for GPS navigation, predicting weather, environmentally sustainable land use decisions, maritime and fisheries protection, and civil defence emergency response.

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