Space student returns

"Huge learning curve" . . . University of Otago student Jonah Belk has returned to Dunedin after representing New Zealand in the ActInSpace international finals in France. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

A Dunedin student has returned home after competing in an international innovation contest in France.

University of Otago student Jonah Belk (26), of Gibbston Valley, entered the ActInSpace NZ event in Christchurch in late May.

At the event, he was put in a team of five people – a mix of students and professionals – from across New Zealand, to take on a 24-hour challenge.

The Christchurch contest was one of 71 similar events, run simultaneously in 35 countries.

Members of his team, called Te Marama, met on the day of the event and were asked to find a solution to reduce dangers and the high cost of mechanical repairs on the International Space Station.

The team’s idea was to use robotics and virtual reality to remotely repair mechanical faults. It impressed the judges, and Te Marama won first place and a trip to represent New Zealand in the ActInSpace event in Toulouse, France, late last month.

The international innovation contest, run by the French Space Agency, brought together more than 60 cities across five continents.

After the win in Christchurch, the team developed its idea with support from local and international researchers, engineers and technicians from organisations including New Zealand’s Centre for Space Science Technology.

“We had so much support. Every corner of the space industry in New Zealand was helping us out.”

In France, Te Marama finished second.

Several business incubators and space agencies wanted to progress the team’s idea, Mr Belk said.

“We really want to get this thing off the floor – we think it’s feasible.”

Mr Belk was “blown away” by the chance to represent New Zealand and learn about space.

“It’s been a whirlwind . . . a huge learning curve.”

The winning idea about monitoring drone traffic came from a team from Australia.