Launched in 2016, the Auckland Programme for Space Systems (APSS) is designed for undergraduate students of all fields of study at the University of Auckland to collaborate towards reach a common goal – contributing broadly towards the field of space research.

Each year, second and third year undergraduate students are invited to form teams, work together to identify a societal need, and design a solution using a CubeSat. Students from all faculties are invited to participate – no experience in engineering is necessary. Upon completion, the satellite will be launched into space by an orbital provider.

Satellites and space technology live in a foreign environment, acting as ideal proxies for complex learning. Beyond providing a pipeline of future talent for New Zealand’s booming space industry, we believe in providing skills that can relate to virtually every field of modern human endeavour. We hope to educate and inspire a new culture of collaboration, and empower future generations to boldly solve challenging problems, create new knowledge, be creative, and to critically think about their place in society.



Beyond this being an excellent opportunity for you to launch something into space, the APSS is also designed to be a beneficial experience for students – here, you will learn to collaborate with those outside your specialisation, practise project management skills, and gain invaluable experience in teamwork and communication. You’ll also learn about systems thinking: the need to consider the many interacting parts and linkages that influence decision-making processes. You will receive a certificate of participation that can be included in a CV. Last (but not least!), there will be several different categories of prizes.

Who can apply?

  • This competition is open to all full-time second and third-year University of Auckland students.

  • Your team must be made up of students from at least two faculties.

  • The ideal team size is six students.

  • No more than half the team is to be represented by students enrolled within a single faculty.

NOTE: Students of other year levels, or teams who do not meet the multiple faculty requirement may be accepted at the discretion of the organisers.


SEMESTER ONE: The Mission Proposal Competition (MPC)

The MPC usually kicks off at the start of each semester. Here, students form teams to identify a societal need that can be fulfilled with a 1U CubeSat and design a solution using the satellite platform. They will also submit a formal report with a business plan, poster and video.

SEMESTER TWO: Beyond the competition

Our winning team from the MPC will proceed to the satellite build process, though there are plenty of activities happening throughout the rest of the semester. Others may join our CanSat programme, which involves building a microprocessor-based payload to be launched on an amateur rocket (to an altitude of approximately one kilometre) to conduct experiments via telemetry as it descends under a parachute. You may also integrate your mission proposal into a business development project with support from our University’s Centre of Innovation and Entrepreneurship or Velocity programme. Project teams are also encouraged to enter their ideas into overseas satellite competitions that can in some instances, lead to publication or conference inclusion.

SEMESTER THREE: Satellite construction and new intake

Our CubeSat team will finalise their system requirements and physical layouts, and begin the process of satellite construction. At the same time, we’ll launch the MPC with a new batch of students to undergo the same process as the previous semester.

SEMESTER FOUR: Satellite build-and-test

The CubeSat will undergo a build-and-test process and flight qualification to ensure that it’s ready for launch. It will then be made available for flight integration with our launch provider. After launch, ground control and satellite operations will remain an ongoing activity.


The APSS is truly relevant to our intentions as educators. With input from researchers from the Faculties of Engineering and Science, the programme is running tandem with the recent achievements in New Zealand’s government and industry. We are proud to see our APSS students critically engage with relevant social, economic, and technological challenges. Our 2017 team for example, focused their mission on space-based earthquake prediction.

Over 400 students have been involved in the APSS so far, and we’re seeing – and hope to see – more representation across disciplines every semester. Between the core Mission Proposal Competition, CanSat programme, and entrepreneurship opportunities, we have generated plenty of interest, dedicated student clubs and projects, and publicity. One of our student groups, Zenno Astronautics, received a $125K grant from the Return on Science foundation and won the prestigious Velocity $100K Challenge for goal aim to make space more accessible, safe and sustainable. Listen to them on Radio New Zealand.

Beyond all this, the APSS also notably kickstarted our University’s public involvement in space research. This undergraduate programme has developed into an avenue to bring together student and academic expertise with a common general research, opening up opportunities for longer-term postgraduate and advanced-level research.

We were also recently featured in the New Zealand Space Agency’s video. Find out more about this MBIE initiative.


Is there a cost for the programme?
No costs beyond putting in your time!
The program is funded through philanthropic donations. If you or someone you know would like to contribute funding, please get in touch.
Do I get credit for this?
There will be no course credits, but those who achieve the full mission competition will receive a certificate from the University acknowledging their participation.
What will I actually learn from this?

You will gain formal practical experience working in diverse teams on complex problems that include aspects from social sciences, business, technology and more. You’ll learn how to complete and present your results in a clear fashion. These are soft skills that most, if not all employers desire.

Will I actually get a chance to build a satellite?
Yes. There are satellites in various stages of development. If you win the ideation competition you may get the chance to work on your own idea.
The opportunity is also available to join one of the specialist teams  working on satellite construction and delivery.
Will I actually get to play with rockets/are rockets involved in this somehow?
APSS is not a rocket program. However we do hold a payload challenge (P-Sat Challenge) annually that will see your payload launched to about 1km altitude aboard a high power rocket that your team will prepare and launch. Launching is undertaken in partnership with the NZ Rocketry Association using their launch facility in the Waikato. 
If I don't win a competition, can I still be involved in building a satellite?
Yes, a number of those who complete the annual round will need to be involved to help work on satellite construction. There will be a core team of around ten people working directly on the CubeSat, but several other teams will also be needed to work on individual systems and carry out test work and rocketry experiments.
Why did the University of Auckland launch this programme?
A number of reasons, though most importantly, because space is a huge opportunity for us all – it is a challenging environment where different skill sets and types of people need to work together to achieve success. The skills you’ll develop through this programme are ideal and applicable to problem-solving on earth too, but sometimes there is a need for something as unusual as space to make us all realise and understand it.
We don’t know what the future holds for our graduates. We do know they will be asked to solve increasingly complex problems, in unfamiliar environments, with teams of people that do not all think the same way. The APSS is an excellent way to experience these challenges in a safe and nurturing program.