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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Will this fly?

20 January 2020

Interesting things are going on down South.

The Waitaki District Council has signed a "memorandum of understanding" with a company that claims it can put payloads into orbit using "an unmanned rocket propelled space plane".

Are my spidey-senses tingling?

Well on the face of it, I have to admit to being somewhat skeptical, and the extreme-comb-over of the guy from Dawn Aerospace doesn't strengthen my confidence in the claims being made by them. However, the fact that this appears to be an independently funded company with a European component makes me think.

On the other hand, the promo video simply shows a store-bought RC model jet plane with a tiny rocket motor bolted to the back. Hardly a game-changer in and of itself.

If you want more info on what I'm talking about, read this RNZ report and take a look at the company's website.

Whilst the company claims that it will be propelling stuff in to space, if the results demonstrated to date are any indication, they are a *LONG* way from that goal.

The concept of using a winged vehicle to complete the first 30-40Km of the journey into space is not a new one -- in deed, this is the concept behind the Spaceship One, the Rutan designed craft which won the Ansari X Prize some years ago.

Whether Dawn Aerospace can turn an RC plane with a tiny rocket motor on the back into a similarly impressive piece of space tech remains to be seen but clearly the Waitaki Council are willing to bring the chance of an innovative new hi-tech industry to their district and for that they are to be commended.

On the down-side, I see that the MBIE has thrown taxpayers' money at this company -- and that's always a worry. Personally, I don't think I have enough confidence in what I see to really justify the investment of taxpayer funds and we all know how incompetent our government is at picking winners (Martin Jetpack... cough, cough).

I can't help (of course) but compare the attitude of the Waitaki council to that of the South Waikato District Council, whose anti-drone and parochial attitude to things has seen a surprising number of drone companies effectively turned away from setting up shop at the Tokoroa Airfield.

One of the companies that opted not to set up shop in Tokoroa was Flirtey, a company that bills itself as "the first drone delivery service in the world" and which has been developing and implementing its technology since 2013.

It seems that the SWDC isn't interested in diversifying the economic base of the South Waikato, a sad fact that means closures like this one have a significant impact on the district.

Right now, the South Island really seems to be stealing the limelight from the North when it comes to visionary involvement in unmanned aviation. KittyHawk are already trialing their Cora "air taxi" in Canterbury and now Dawn Aerospace are working out of Oamaru.

This quote from a Stuff news article on the subject ought to be read to the SWDC:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the programme was about "sending the message to the world that our doors are open for people with great ideas who want to turn them into reality". Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said the project was "a great example of our commitment to be prepared for the future"

Sadly, it seems that when it comes to embracing the future and welcoming exiting new hi-tech enterprises... all doors and minds remain firmly closed in the South Waikato.

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