Rocket man wrecks for a liv­ing


Some rocket sci­en­tists de­sign the en­gines, some do the aero­dy­nam­ics, Auck­land man Alex An­der­son’s job is to break stuff.

An­der­son, a Mt Eden res­i­dent, is a ve­hi­cle test en­gi­neer for Rocket Lab.

Rocket Lab is an Amer­i­can com­pany with a base of op­er­a­tions in New Zealand that de­vel­ops launch ve­hi­cles to put small satel­lites into space.

An­der­son’s work in­volves test­ing all the var­i­ous com­po­nents and sys­tems of a launch ve­hi­cle.

‘‘It’s a dream job,’’ An­der­son said.

‘‘My job is ac­tu­ally to try and break things that go on the launch ve­hi­cle to find out how well the de­signs are work­ing.

Rocket Lab of­fers low-cost, ded­i­cated launches for the small satel­lite mar­ket.

While small satel­lites tra­di­tion­ally have to ride-share on medium and heavy lift ve­hi­cles and can wait months to years for an op­por­tu­nity to launch, Rocket Lab aims to re­move these bar­ri­ers to pro­vide fre­quent launch op­por­tu­ni­ties to low Earth or­bit.

Their cus­tomers in­clude NASA and other com­pa­nies who con­duct sci­en­tific re­search, col­lect weather and mar­itime date, pro­vide in­ter­net and earth imag­ing ser­vices from space.

An­der­son’s love for rock­ets be­gan when he was grow­ing up in Waiuku.

He used to read a lot of science fic­tion books and dreamt of the day he would build things like robots.

He grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Auck­land’s Bio­engi­neer­ing In­sti­tute with a PhD in bio­med­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing in May.

As part of his the­sis, he de­vel­oped a sci­en­tific in­stru­ment which stud­ied sam­ples of a heart mus­cle us­ing a liv­ing heart.

It was the first de­vice to ob­serve mus­cle cells work­ing to­gether and has en­abled a deeper study of the re­la­tion­ships be­tween the sys­tems driv­ing the heart, in health and dis­ease for the fu­ture.

An­der­son said af­ter univer­sity he ini­tially looked into ro­botic pros­thet­ics and never imag­ined he would be work­ing for Rocket Lab.

‘‘I didn’t ever think the space side of aero­space would be an op­tion in New Zealand.

‘‘It’s well out­side tra­di­tional in­dus­try in New Zealand.

‘‘So it’s pretty cool to get peo­ple do a bit of a dou­ble-take and think ‘wait, peo­ple are ac­tu­ally do­ing that in New Zealand’?’’


Alex An­der­son of Mt Eden test drives space launch ve­hi­cles for a liv­ing.

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