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Aerospace Summit Boosts Christchurch’s Hi-Tech Future

By Ali Adams, ChristchurchNZ Chief Executive Officer

We are focused on the future at ChristchurchNZ, the city’s economic development agency. As catalysts for change, we look for early interventions that have the potential to really move the needle on growing the city’s economy.

One of the most exciting of these opportunities is the aerospace industry. You may not think of New Zealand as an aerospace nation but did you know that so far this year, New Zealand has launched the fourth-most rockets to space, behind heavyweights China, Russia and the US? That goes to show just how much impact Aotearoa is already making in the sector.

ChristchurchNZ has been working behind the scenes on seeding and nurturing this cluster of innovative businesses over the past five years. We support Aerospace Christchurch, which is the local network of this fast-growing sector with established companies joining every year, support start-ups through our Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem and grow Christchurch’s reputation as the country’s aerospace capital.

That reputation was solidified last month when Aerospace Christchurch produced the first-ever national Aerospace Summit at the Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre. “Building an Aerospace Nation” was the main theme. I joined over 300 delegates who heard from forty speakers across five in-depth panels discussing the future of the aerospace industry, and its strengths, ambitions and economic potential.

The event attracted keynote addresses from Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck and NASA Deputy Administrator and former astronaut Pamela Melroy. Given that Rocket Lab had recently launched the first stage of NASA’s Artemis program, this was a timely marking of New Zealand’s role in the next big push into space. Over the next several years, the Artemis programme aims to put the first woman and the first person of colour on the Moon, establish the first long-term presence on the Moon and use what NASA learns on and around the Moon to take the next giant leap: sending the first astronauts to Mars.

Ali Adams ChristchurchNZ CE

As we know from our city’s status as one of the five Antarctic gateways in the world, when businesses have to operate in extreme environments, the innovations they develop can boost other parts of the economy as well."

ChristchurchNZ Chief Executive Officer - Ali Adams

Combine this with some of the amazing deep space images we are starting to see from the James Webb telescope and I hope you can sense my excitement at how our city can be part of some of the most scientifically-innovative and awe-inspiring discovery happening in the world. And as we know from our city’s status as one of the five Antarctic gateways in the world, when businesses have to operate in extreme environments, the innovations they develop can boost other parts of the economy as well.

Aerospace is an industry worth $24 billion a year globally and at the Summit, Government ministers announced a nearly $16 million funding boost across New Zealand. Along with the national Aerospace

Strategy launched at the Summit, the government announced funding including $9 million for research partnerships with NASA, $3 million for research projects under the Government’s Airspace Integration Trials Programme and $3.7 million for the Civil Aviation Authority to establish an Emerging Technologies Programme.

So, what does this mean for Ōtautahi Christchurch? Local businesses such as Dawn Aerospace, Pyper Vision and Fabrum are already reaching new heights through space science and innovation and Aerospace and Future Transport is one of ChristchurchNZ’s key industry clusters — strategic strength sectors which are supported by ecosystems connecting enterprise, education, and government. We look forward to supporting a fantastic future asset for the region, Project Tāwhaki on the Kaitōrete Spit, a unique commercial partnership between Te Taumutu Rūnanga and Wairewa Rūnanga and the Crown that will host an aerospace research and development facility and is a potential launch site.

With a serious stronghold in this sector and access to some of the government funding, local aerospace innovators have the opportunity to develop technologies faster and push boundaries. And with that comes global recognition, high-value jobs and economic growth. Kea Aerospace CEO Mark Rocket, chair of Aerospace Christchurch, sees Christchurch as the gateway to space, as it is to Antarctica, and it’s estimated that by 2030, the city will be home to hundreds of aerospace companies providing thousands of jobs. New Zealand has huge potential to become an even more significant aerospace nation and Christchurch is well-positioned to be at the heart of it.

That is an exciting prospect that, like last week’s view of Jupiter’s close orbit or a glimpse of deep space from 13 billion years ago, fills me with awe.

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