An artist's impression of Dawn Aerospace's space plane, which could be taking off from Oamaru into space later this year. IMAGE: SUPPLIED

Dawn Aerospace is offering a free ticket to space.

The Christchurch and Netherlands-based company, which plans to begin test launches of its unmanned rocket-propelled space planes from the Oamaru Airport this year, has launched an international competition to paint its Mk-II suborbital spaceplane.

The winner of the competition gets a free “payload slot” onboard, valued at US$50,000.

“We’re giving away a free seat, which can be used for scientific suborbital/microgravity research, or in this case – anything (orther than say people and animals) anyone wants to send to space and then get back again,” Joshua Rea, who does business development at Dawn Aerospace, said.

Applicants for the competition are asked to submit a design for the plane, alongside a proposal for what they want fly to space. The item must be less than 4kg.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher, who visited Dawn Aerospace’s Christchurch base recently, is encouraging local residents to enter the competition by submitting a design to be painted on what could be the first vehicle to reach space twice in a single day.

“It’s to have something you can basically say space’.

“It could be your favourite teddy bear .. it’s just something that goes up and, in this case, comes down.”

In January, Dawn Aerospace signed a memorandum of understanding with the Waitaki District Council to allow the company to begin test launches of its unmanned rocket-propelled space planes from the Oamaru Airport.

The company’s goal is to replace the work of traditional rockets by taking satellites and other material into space and make history with its Mk-II, the first vehicle to fly to space and back twice in one day.

The planes reach heights of up to 100km and, rather than disintegrate like traditional rockets, return to the ground to be re-used.

“The plan is to fly from Oamaru and this is what we’ve been working towards since signing the MOU,” Mr Rea said.

“As we are doing something that has never been done before integrating a spacefaring aircraft with normal aviation – flying from Oamaru depends on many factors.

“In saying this – everything is on track so far, we’re getting the support we need from the right departments and we’re optimistic of a favourable result.”

The company would to host a public forum in Oamaru soon.

“Timing for this forum will be closer to the middle of the year,” he said.

A date for the first test launches had not been confirmed, but the first flights were still planned to start later this year, and commercial operations could start from early 2021.

Competition entries should be submitted by March 31. More information is available at: shoesNike