A class of Masterton Intermediate School pupils have launched their new love for rocket science to dizzying heights.

Vik Olliver, Wairarapa aeronautical and aerospace engineer, and his daughter Tamara last week led about 15 boys from the school on a two-day research and development class that sent their creative design skills soaring.

The class was the first educational thrust in a Fab Lab initiative that landed in the town earlier this year through Masterton Fab Lab Charity trustees Kirsten Browne and John Hart. Fab Lab operates on open access digital fabrication machinery, which is used as a creative hub where community members develop ideas and innovations.

Angela Ternent-James, MIS design technology teacher, said the class was the first of its kind and comes ahead of a second two-day event in about a fortnight focused on micro-processors and 3D printing.


"It was so inspirational that students, who wouldn't normally, went home and researched how to improve their rockets for launching the next day. I was just blown away," she said.

"Vik is a pretty, pretty cool guy and I can't believe how lucky we are to have such an amazing person here in Wairarapa, and his family. They are very much into growing technology here."

Mr Olliver said he had thoroughly enjoyed leading the inaugural session alongside his daughter and was looking forward to similar educational days through the Masterton Fab Lab team in the near future.

He said the MIS class started their deep space adventure using balloons and shooting small model rockets "off the end of a straw" before graduating to soft drink bottles fitted with fins and nose cones. One of the modified bottle rockets was even fitted with parachutes to ease its fall to earth.

Propulsion for the larger rockets was achieved using two air compressors and bottles partially filled with water. Each bottle was fitted to a launch stand at the end of a compressor hose, and a 60psi blast of air rapidly displaced the water downward and propelled the rockets skyward to heights of about 60m.

"There was one absolute clear winner. It was a wonderful rocket and there was an awesome range of rockets and lots of room for experiment. Like how much water do you use, or the use of a touch of washing liquid. We even let one off with flour instead of water. It went really well actually, disappeared in a great white cloud and soared skywards. It made a very interesting mess."

Mr Olliver had semi-retired to Masterton about six months ago after shifting from Auckland, he said, where he had been running a 3D printer factory that was also operating as a Fab Lab.

He had struck up a working relationship with Mr Hart in The City of Sails after earlier working in aerospace engineering for private spaceflight and moon habitation venture The Artemis Project, which became space advocacy group The Moon Society; and TransOrbital Inc.

He worked on thruster systems for a lunar orbiter test satellite that had about a year to run on its mission.

Mr Olliver said a Kiwi company, Rocket Lab, which uses a 'hybrid' rocket engine with solid fuel and liquid oxidiser, was today a trailblazer in the international space launch sector - promising less than $5 million take-offs that slash 90 per cent from traditional launch costs - at a time when travel to Mars was on the horizon for NASA and private company Mars One.

"They've got their oxidisers suspended in their fuel, which sounds a wee bit dangerous - it's pretty much like a stick of gelignite - but you could hit it with a hammer and it won't go off."

He believed as well that missions to Mars should include the moon and a payload or more of patience.

"I think they're going about it the wrong way. I think they should go to the moon and use the materials there to make a substantial Mars ship," he said.

"And take their time getting to and colonising Mars, rather than doing it all in a rush in little tiny ships."