A major satellite receiving station is to be built near Reporoa as part of efforts to boost search and rescue operations throughout Australasia.
Maritime New Zealand and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority have signed a contract with McMurdo Group's Techno-Sciences Inc to improve the way emergency distress beacon signals are picked up and passed on to rescue authorities.
Two new satellite receiving stations will be built, one in Western Australia and the other near Reporoa, and a new mission control centre in Canberra. Signals from medium-earth orbit search and rescue (MEOSAR) satellites will be tracked.
The New Zealand receiving station will be built on private farmland near the intersection of Plateau and Goudies Rds, about 20km south-east of Reporoa and 50km north-east of Taupo.
Maritime New Zealand spokesman Steve Rendle said the site was about 1km off the road, near existing Maritime New Zealand high frequency radio receiving masts.
Six satellite dishes will be built with construction starting in February and be completed by the end of 2015.
The station is expected to be operational by 2017. The New Zealand contract is made up of $7.2 million for construction of the receiving station and $5.5 million in operating costs over the next 11 years.
The site was chosen because of its isolation.
MEOSAR satellites (orbiting at about 20,000km above the Earth) are replacing the current low-Earth orbit satellites (orbiting between 800-1000km), which are being phased out over the next four years.
There are currently 16 MEOSAR satellites orbiting earth, compared with five LEOSAR satellites, meaning beacon signals will be received more quickly and beacon locations identified with greater accuracy. Beacon signals will pass through the MEOSAR satellites to the two ground stations, be processed through the Canberra mission control centre, and relayed to the Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand, thus triggering search and rescue operations.
Maritime New Zealand director Keith Manch said the change was necessary as without a medium earth orbiting receiving station New Zealand would lose its ability to respond to distress beacons once the LEOSAR satellites were phased out.
"But the change brings with it significant improvements to search and rescue capability."