A satellite with "security and defence" applications, due to be launched from Mahia, is expected to help security services across the globe intercept secret radio transmissions from terrorists and drug smugglers.

Orbital launch provider Rocket Lab has signed a contract with Luxembourg-based satellite technology company Kleos Space to launch "scouting mission satellites" that will geolocate maritime radio to "guard borders, protect assets and save lives".

The Kleos Scouting Mission (KSM) will form the cornerstones of a 20-system constellation that will geolocate VHF transmissions from marine vessels to provide global activity-based intelligence data as a service.

The Kleos Space constellation will detect radio transmissions and pinpoint their origin and timing, enabling governments and organisations to detect activity such as drug and people smuggling, illegal fishing and piracy, and also identify those in need of search and rescue at sea.

Built by GomSpace, the Kleos Space satellites are scheduled to launch on an Electron rocket from Rocket Lab's Launch Complex-1facility in Mahia, in mid-2019.

"Small satellite technology like that of Kleos Space is increasingly playing a vital role in informing decisions on the ground that protect people and the environment," Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck said.

"We're thrilled to be partnering with Kleos Space to provide them with the rapid and reliable access to orbit needed to build and replenish small satellite constellations."

The satellites will be integrated into Rocket Lab's in-house designed and built Maxwell dispensers and deployed from the Electron kick stage to low Earth orbit.

Rocket Lab's kick stage, powered by the 3D printed Curie engine, is designed to circularise small satellite orbits and perform complex manoeuvres, including multiple engine burns, to deploy many satellites into different orbits.

This provides unmatched mission flexibility, making it ideal for deploying and replenishing constellations.

Kleos Space chief executive Andy Bowyer said Rocket Lab's technology provided the ASX-listed company with the flexibility needed to grow its satellite constellation and respond to the demanding market needs.

"We are thrilled to launch our first satellites with a new space company which meets our business philosophy."

Kleos Space says with a constellation goal of 20s satellite systems in low earth orbit, as of
2019 it will be able to observe the Earth, capturing data currently "hidden " from detection, data on "passive" radio transmissions without AIS, GPS or VMS protocol which will be used for answering real societal challenges, security and for defence purposes.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which runs the newly-formed New Zealand Space Agency, suggested there were no concerns around the technology being used by unfriendly foreign parties.

"Space activities from New Zealand are regulated under the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act 2017.

"In order to launch a satellite from New Zealand, the operator must seek approval from the Minister for Economic Development.

"Before granting a permit, the Minister must be satisfied that the requirements in the Act are met, including that: the proposed operation of the payload is consistent with New Zealand's international obligations, its operations do not pose a risk to national security, and its operations are not contrary to New Zealand's national interests."

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