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A small team of amateur rocketry enthusiasts who've spent 10 months tooling away in a Waikato shed will this weekend gather in a paddock near Huntly to launch the largest amateur rocket built in New Zealand.

A full-scale replica of the NASA rocket Nike Smoke will blast off in a sparkly purple blaze this Sunday as part of the New Zealand Rocketry Association's first international launch event.

This isn't a rocket made by professionals at NASA, or even New Zealand's Rocket Lab — this is a 6.5m projectile made in a shed in Te Pahū by six amateur enthusiasts.

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The Nike team, left: Martin and Debbie van Tiel, centre: Chris North, right: Kelvin and Kim McVinnie, with the rocket base at their workshop. Photo / Dean Taylor
The Nike team, left: Martin and Debbie van Tiel, centre: Chris North, right: Kelvin and Kim McVinnie, with the rocket base at their workshop. Photo / Dean Taylor

And the launch site is just as Kiwi — not even Rocket Lab's Mahia launch complex — but a paddock in the Waikato at the New Zealand Rocketry Association's three-day Havoc in the Paddock event.

Sunday is National Launch Day, the culmination of the event, held at Kneebone Rd, Orini — near Huntly.

National Launch Day has been an annual event since 2001 and is where everyone from kids making their own rockets on the day, through to the members of The Nike project, get to fire rockets.

The McVinnies putting in a marathon weekend to paint The Nike.
The McVinnies putting in a marathon weekend to paint The Nike.

The Nike (for the record Nike is the Greek goddess of Goddess of speed, strength and victory) replicates NASA's creation from the 1960s and is the work of Ethan Kosoof of Huntly, who is project manager, Dr Martin van Tiel and his wife Debbie of Taupiri, Chris North from Onewhero and Kelvin and Kim McVinnie from Te Pahū.

All are members of the New Zealand Rocketry Association.

The Nike is the largest amateur rocket built in New Zealand — specially built for Havoc in the Paddock over the past 10 months.

One of numerous sub scale test motor firings. Photos / Supplied
One of numerous sub scale test motor firings. Photos / Supplied

Ethan designed the rocket and he and Kelvin convinced the others to be part of the project.

Team members have varying skills to contribute — including building their own engine, a P class solid propellant motor.

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Martin, a vice-president of the association and the project's propellant engineer (his own business is high level pyrotechnics) says the fuel is ammonium perchlorate, with special developments that means it will burn purple and include a lot of sparks — dubbed 'Purple Neon'.

"It's designed to be a crowd pleaser," he says. "It will look great."

He says the motor is similar to what NASA use on the Space Shuttles — "but ours has effects."

After a lot of hard work the nose cone was unveiled by, from left, Martin van Tiel, Ethan Kosoof and a relieved Kelvin McVinnie.
After a lot of hard work the nose cone was unveiled by, from left, Martin van Tiel, Ethan Kosoof and a relieved Kelvin McVinnie.

Debbie says she married Martin, who has always been rocket mad, so she had no choice to be involved in the hobby and helps where she can.

Chris and Kelvin are involved in fabrication and engineering and Ethan oversees the project.

Kim, New Zealand's only female rocket pilot qualified to level 3, is in charge of recovery.

Pushing the button to launch The Nike will be done by representatives of sponsors Logic Wireless. The Nike is expected to fly to about 9000ft, not a great height in rocket terms, and won't be exceptionally fast.

"That's because we want people to be able to follow the flight and see the spectacle," says Kelvin.

When it reaches full ascent the first of two parachutes will deploy to bring The Nike back to earth.

The first chute is quite small so the rocket basically falls straight down, but at a controlled speed. Nearer the ground a large chute deploys that allows the rocket to land gently and be recovered.

"It is all about building enthusiasm for the hobby by putting on a show that will inspire others to join," says Kelvin.

He and Kim got hooked when they saw a sign advertising a previous National Launch Day so they went for a look.

They have since built their own rockets, travelled to Australia for launch events and Kim has held flight records for women pilots.

Martin and Chris were both hooked at a young age, Martin wanting a career at NASA then getting into pyrotechnics instead. Chris was taken to events by his father when he was at intermediate and stayed hooked.

They are all intrigued by the challenges and excitement of rocketry.

"It really is rocket science," says Martin. "We have conducted heaps of engine tests and have had to solve complicated problems. The Nike weighs 150kg and is fitted with GPS tracking.

"We have run computer simulated flight tests and undertaken lots of calculations to fine tune our rocket."

All agree the main thrill is firing the engine and watching their rocket fly.

They don't get a test run — Sunday will be the first launch for real, so there are real nerves and anxious thoughts.

But they are also confident they have done their homework and built a rocket they and New Zealand can be proud of.

It is a public event — see more information at nzrocketry.org.nz.