Ship spotters and technophiles alike received a rare treat when a Chinese Yuan Wang-class “space tracker” vessel docked at Queens Wharf in Auckland earlier this week.
The Yuan Wang 6 - the name means “long view” - is the latest and most advanced of six space tracking vessels that China maintains to track and support its satellites, manned space missions and, it is widely reported, long range missile tests.
The vessel is presumably visiting Auckland to resupply after supporting the Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 space docking mission earlier this month.
According to the Hong Kong Science Museum, the ship is a showcase of maritime meteorology, electronics, mechanics, optics, communication and computing.
Moored opposite the Hilton hotel, where Chorus was celebrating its listing on the New Zealand stock exchange on Wednesday morning, the ship aroused considerable interest among local telecommunications and computing experts who had assembled for the event.
According to one well-placed source, apart from its tracking role the vessel is also capable of intercepting satellite voice and data traffic in real time, making it a floating equivalent of New Zealand’s Waihopai base.
The functions of the various antennae and other superstructure features are explained in a graphic on the Hong Kong Science Museum website, but the computing power that may be housed below its decks can only be guessed at.
According to the Ports of Auckland website, the Yuan Wang 6 arrived on 22 November from Suva, Fiji and will depart on 28 November at 9:45 pm.