The countdown is on for the European Space Agency's next rocket launch and New Zealand is playing its part in the international space programme.
Top scientists from the European Space Agency are in New Zealand to monitor tracking of the Johannes Kepler unmanned spacecraft from Awarua Station, near Invercargill, when it launches tomorrow.
The new spacecraft, known as an automated transfer vehicle, will carry essential supplies to the International Space Station and will launch from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana in South America.
The new spacecraft is being prepared in French Guiana, with the seven tonnes of precious cargo it will carry to the International Space Station.
"[The cargo] is fuel to keep the space station in orbit and to manoeuvre it if necessary. There's oxygen, there is food, there is water, and of course some materials for experiments," said Chris de Cooker of European Space Agency.
The spacecraft will stay fixed to the space station to use its rockets to "reboost" the station in its orbit, and will then be filled with human wastes and other rubbish before being dumped in the Pacific Ocean east of New Zealand.
Lift off will be midday tomorrow and from then on the rocket will be watched closely from Southland.
Nestled amongst the cows in Southland's countryside, the Awarua station, between Invercargill and Bluff, will have space agency technicians on hand to monitor the rocket's flight as it orbits the earth.
"It's a big team effort to get something like that going - we're part of it and it's pretty cool," said Robin McNeill of Venture Southland.
The Awarua site was chosen because of its proximity to the orbit path, being far enough south for radio tracking of the spacecraft, but more importantly remote enough so that no radio interference could disrupt the signal, which will be travelling at 25,000 km an hour.
In its downtime, the Awarua Station is used for other scientific projects.
With the retirement of the space shuttles, the automated transfer vehicle is the largest vehicle left supplying the International Space Station, which is expected to continue its programme at least until 2020.
Since the New Zealand ground station was built, Swedish and American space interest, including a company that photographs Earth for Google, have also sought its services.
And between launches of supply rockets for the space station, Awarua's broadband internet link has also been used for projects raging from measuring lightning up to 6000km away, to collecting radio noise data.
"What we'd really like to see is it to develop into a full-time down station for satellite images that would be used for New Zealand overall, and we're pretty hopeful of doing that," said McNeill.
Also on Thursday, some of the European Space Agency's scientists are expected to speak at a Wellington seminar, What on Earth, which will canvass new opportunities for using such satellite imagery and data in forestry, fishing, conservation, land use change, mineral exploration, and even natural disaster assessment.
The seminar is also expected to touch on the proposed joint bid by New Zealand and Australia for a $3.57 billion Square Kilometre Array deep space radio telescope.
The seminar has been sponsored by the European Space Agency, and speakers will include scientists from the agency, Landcare Research, the Swedish Space Corporation, German and Italian space agencies, and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.