The Tauranga mastermind behind an innovative new solution for navigating the icy continent of Antarctica and his team have won the inaugural New Zealand Space Challenge.

John Ahearn's childhood dream to explore Antarctica led the tech expert to design a creative way of transporting large-scale science projects into the icy polar region - and potentially to outer space.

Ahearn and his team at GPS Control Systems were named the winner of the Space Challenge in Christchurch on Thursday night, with their Global Navigation Satellite System to help heavy tracked vehicles detect and avoid perilous ice shelf crevasses.

Team mastermind John Ahearn was there to collect the $40,000 in prize money, which comes with six months of desk space at a local incubator and access to mentorship.

The Space Challenge brought together some of the brightest minds from across the country to find innovative technological solutions to navigating the extreme environments of Antarctica and outer space.


Ahearn, representing the Bay of Plenty, Auckland and Northland regions, said he was excited to win the award, but it was daunting to have to get up and present the design alongside such a talented group of finalists.

"My year seven teacher once told me, when you stop learning, you grow old. So never stop learning," he told the audience on Thursday evening.

Ahearn was up against designs from four other regional finalists, which included a
a Pokemon GO-style augmented reality system and a suborbital rocket, an airborne ice-penetrating radar and a multi-spectral data analysis technique using artificial intelligence.

The NZ Space Challenge was open to anyone living in New Zealand and to New Zealand citizens living abroad.

It was the brainchild of space enthusiasts and entrepreneurs Eric Dahlstrom and Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom, who established SpaceBase with co-founder Rich Bodo.

SpaceBase partnered with economic development agency ChristchurchNZ to deliver this national challenge, sponsored by Antarctica New Zealand.

Paat-Dahlstrom said whittling down the five finalists to one winner was hard for the panel of national and international judges.

"All the concepts presented would have an impact on solving navigation issues in the Antarctic, and the opportunities presented by the innovative use of advanced technologies were very exciting to the judges," he said.

ChristchurchNZ chief executive Joanna Norris said all the finalists' presentations were of a high calibre and they had some "mind-blowing solutions" to the challenge.

"The New Zealand Space Challenge demonstrates the strength of our emerging and exciting space industry that builds on our traditional manufacturing expertise and strong tech sector.

Antarctica New Zealand chief executive Peter Beggs said the event had been an amazing meeting of some of the brightest minds in our science and technology sectors.

"Antarctica New Zealand offers our warmest congratulations to John Ahearn from GPS Control Systems, the grand final winner, for his innovative design."