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Innovation on show at NZ Space Challenge

From Taranaki to Texas, innovation on show at NZ Space Challenge

23 May 2018

Airborne ice penetrating radar may be the answer to navigating the Extreme Environments of Antarctica and outer Space.

Taranaki’s Duncan Young is spearheading a team from the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics’ (UTIG) Polar and Planetary Group, who have been hailed regional finalists in the NZ Space Challenge.

Their innovative design harnesses airborne ice penetrating radar technology to assess safety on the ice - and potentially some of outer space’s trickiest pitfalls.

Detecting and avoiding navigational hazards is crucial to the survival of any Antarctic expedition, as hidden underneath the ice are deep, treacherous crevasses that can swallow machinery and people.

In his official role as the UTIG Polar and Planetary Group Group Research Associate, Young explains that the group has based their solution to the challenge on their proven autonomous airborne radar system, analysis techniques developed for the reconnaissance of the icy moon Europa, and Antarctic demonstrated drone technology.

“We have tapped into our extensive expertise in the development, export, and deployment of such systems and analysis of these data – in both poles and in space – to come up with the concept.”

Hailing from Ratapiko in Taranaki, Young is a proud alumnus of Inglewood High School and The University of Canterbury and has called Texas, USA, home since 1998.

“I’ve been enjoying planetary science and polar geophysics here (in Texas) ever since, frequently deploying via the US Antarctic Program facilities in Christchurch,” he says.

UTIG is is a research unit of the University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences, and one of the leading international centres for geophysics.

Young and his UTIG group are proudly representing the Wellington/Palmerston North/Wanganui/Taranaki regions in this year’s NZ Space Challenge, which brings together some of the country’s brightest minds to use space data and intelligence to solve navigation issues on the ice in the Antarctic.

The NZ Space Challenge is the brain child of space enthusiasts and entrepreneurs, Eric Dahlstrom and Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom who have forged international careers in the space community and have chosen to settle in New Zealand, establishing SpaceBase with fellow co-founder Rich Bodo.

SpaceBase has partnered with economic development agency ChristchurchNZ to deliver this national challenge and the winners will be announced in Christchurch on Thursday 24 May as part of the Techweek’18 event, Extreme Environments – from the Antarctic to Space.

ChristchurchNZ chief executive Joanna Norris says New Zealand has a vibrant tech sector full of world-class ingenuity, as clearly demonstrated by the finalists.

“We’re very proud to support the growth of the country’s technology and innovation sectors, which are growing rapidly and make an important contribution to the nation’s economy,” Ms Norris says.

“These world-leading solutions to the challenges presented by Antarctica and Space are not just good for our country, but innovation that’s good for the world.”

Finalists will pitch their Antarctic navigation innovations to a panel of national and international judges with $40k going to the winning designer.

The event will appeal to those from the science, research, technology, innovation and education eco-systems and anybody with an interest in the Antarctic and Space and saving the world.


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