The New Zealand Space Challenge 2018

Helping drive space innovation in New Zealand is Space Base and their New Zealand Space Challenge.

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Spacebase was set up by Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom and and Eric Dahlstrom in 2016 after they both came to New Zealand under a Edmund Hillary Fellowship. Spacebase is aiming to link up New Zealand space related businesses and innovators to build a directory across New Zealand. One of the other activities that Spacebase is running is a Space Challenge where groups or individuals compete for a $40,000 cash prize to further their research and other prizes including access to mentors and innovation incubator services. The aim is to get New Zealand groups into space related activities and give a leg up to good innovative ideas that may help Kiwis get their ideas into space. The space industry environment is competitive and New Zealanders are up against the research resources of the established space economies and their universities and industries.

The Space Challenge will help fund Kiwis with great ideas to get them to the prototype stage and business support, so they can grow their ideas in business opportunities while contributing to the New Zealand economy. We think this is fantastic, because this will bring opportunities to New Zealand, support local industries and involve New Zealanders who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access a kickstart to their innovative ideas.

Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom opening the event (Credit: the author)

Milky-Way.kiwi’s very own Hartina Mogoșanu was a judge at the Wellington region competition for the Space Challenge last night at the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt. There were five entries from the Wellington region with one from overseas that linked up via video link. It was a great evening with some fantastic presentations of brilliant and innovative thinking. Emeline presented the concept behind the challenge which was, basically, to present ideas for a safe way for people to navigate across Antarctica that utilises space related technology. They judged based on a wide range of criteria to try and even the playing field for the contestants. Emeline stated that their aim is to democratise access to space and the prize would be used to help catalyse new ideas to create startup companies in New Zealand. The winner for the Wellington region will head down to Christchurch on 24 May and compete against the regional winners from the rest of New Zealand.

The format for the competition was a 5-7 minute presentation followed by questions from the judges. The judges then went away to deliberate on the results and a winner was announced later in the evening. The six presentations were of a very high standard and the ideas were varied and very innovative. The first presentation dealt with an idea that flung sensors out the front of a vehicle crossing the ice. The sensors would look for crevasses and the tether to the sensors would act as a safety anchor if the vehicle accidentally fell into a crevasse. It was a great idea and the presenter also demonstrated some of his concepts around 3D printing which were very interesting. I took a bit of time at the end of the competition to catch up with each contestant that was present to find a bit more about what they were up to and the first one had done a lot of work with 3D printing and has a company that builds 3D printing to conduct a wide range of applications.

A competitor mid-pitch (Credit: the author)

The next contestant was a recording that had a very ingenious concept about using analysis of stress points in glaciers to map the risk of crevasses in each part of the glacier and have some smart software then determine the best alternative path over the ice to avoid the risk of going over a crevasse. Another contestant was a PHD student from Victoria University who had a great idea to build a machine learning approach to analysing imagery of ice to identify crevasses. He described it very well and at one point explained how he and his partner had to draw around 400 crevasse shapes to help the software learn the shapes.

One interesting concept that was presented and it seemed well thought out was by a team with some high powered advisers in the space industry. They proposed using a drone with synthetic aprature radar to look underneath the ice layer to find the crevasses. I was left wondering how the drone would perform in the very high winds that often occur in Antarctica, but I guess they would figure that out. One of the entries was from a group from overseas with one New Zealander, originally from Taranaki, in their team, they presented a concept flying a synethic aperture radar on various aircraft and drones. Their pitch was based on many years of research and experience in operating large aircraft and helicopters on the ice. This group ultimately won the Wellington and Taranaki regional competition.

The prototype crevasse self propelled bridge (Credit: the author)

My favourite entry for the evening was a bridge that propelled itself along the ice. The contestant entertained the audience with a fantastic prototype that he had built from 3D printed material and spare parts he had obtained. The concept was brilliant and well thought out. Unfortunately the judges weren’t swayed but I think the self propelled bridge was the audience favourite and would have got my vote. It will be really interesting to see what the regional finalist come up with for the finals in Christchurch. t was a great night at the Dowse Art Museum and all competitors did really well. Good luck to all of the finalists and hopefully the overall winner will spark an innovative an lucrative opportunity for regional New Zealand.