19 Nov 2009

First rocket launch from NZ soil nears

7:00 am on 19 November 2009

The first rocket launch into space from New Zealand soil is scheduled to happen in the next three weeks.

Private aerospace company Rocket Lab says it will launch its Atea-1 rocket from Great Mercury Island some time in the week beginning 30 November.

The rocket will fly to an altitude of 120 kilometres, but will not go into orbit, and will fall back to the Pacific Ocean.

A director of Rocket Lab, Peter Beck, says tests on boosters, separation systems, parachute recovery and low altitude launches of smaller rockets have been completed.

The exact date of the launch will depend on the weather.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research says it will follow the launch with interest.

Chief scientist Murray Poulter says rockets are the only way of gathering data from the upper atmosphere.