German foreign minister describes Space Institute as a special place

On her first visit to New Zealand, Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was the guest at a showcase on research and innovation in the space sector.

Minister visit: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research Professor Frank Bloomfield.
Minister visits: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research Professor Frank Bloomfield.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock described the University of Auckland’s Space Institute, Te Pūnaha Ātea, as "a special place, combining campus life with cutting-edge research".

Minister Baerbock was hosted by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research Professor Frank Bloomfield, on her first visit to New Zealand on Saturday (4 May).

Following a mihi delivered by Michael Steedman, kaiarataki from the office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor, Māori, Professor Bloomfield welcomed Minister Baerbock and her delegation of members of the Bundestag, the German Ambassador to New Zealand Nicole Menzenbach and German media.

Professor Bloomfield outlined the range of research partnerships the University has with German and European research programmes.

“We believe New Zealand is an innovative and dynamic partner in research. We are interested in leveraging the respective strengths of New Zealand and Germany to grow current and build future research partnerships.”

The focus of Minister Baerbock’s visit was the University’s space research, supporting one of the country’s fastest growing and transformative sectors.

At the Space Institute, the Minister was briefed on a range of research programmes, including the role of the Institute’s Mission Operations Control Centre which will assume control of the country’s first space mission MethaneSAT later this year.

Minister Baerbock said, “This satellite technology will help to hold companies accountable and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What happens in space affects our security on Earth in many ways and it can also help to meet the global challenges of our planet.”

Researchers participate in several significant projects with the German Aerospace Centre, Deutshes Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt (DLR) and the European Space Agency.

  • Free Space Optical Communications: Associate Professor Nicholas Rattenbury is working with the DLR on technology to enable Free Space Optical Communications (FSOC). The goal is to use an optical beam to transmit data in space. The radio frequency spectrum has become crowded and optical beams offer greater security of communications. The work is jointly funded by an MBIE Catalyst grant and the DLR.
  • Carbon-Reinforced Polymers: Professor Mark Battley is leading work on how to use carbon-reinforced polymers in the construction of rockets. The use of polymers potentially offers significant weight reduction and better opportunities for reuse to improve sustainability.
  • LISA Mission: Professor Richard Easther is a collaborator on the European Space Agency led Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA). Its primary goal is to observe low-frequency gravitational waves (ripples in the fabric of spacetime) from various cosmic sources such as colliding black holes. The mission involves three spacecraft flying in a triangular formation, trailing Earth in its orbit around the Sun. The LISA mission was adopted in January 2024, with construction set to begin in January 2025 for launch in the mid-2030s.

The Minister was also briefed on:

  • Space Debris and Space Situational Awareness: Professor Guglielmo Aglietti, Director of the Space Institute, and Professor Roberto Armellin specialise in space mission design: how space missions navigate, are controlled and tracked. Their work is particularly relevant to the growing space debris problem.
  • Sustainable Space: Dr Priyanka Dhopade is researching space activity from a ‘life-cycle perspective,’ considering the environmental, social, cultural, and economic impacts of space technology with the goal to reduce the sector’s carbon footprint.
  • Frond Space Systems: Dr Ben Taylor, co-founder of the business and a University researcher is developing a deployable dragsail that would enable the speedier destruction of spacecraft at the end of their life to reduce space debris.

Media contact: Gilbert Wong, 021 917942,