Reason for mysterious cosmic Russian plane in Auckland skies revealed

The mysterious reason behind the evening arrival of a massive Russian freighter plane in Auckland last night can finally be revealed.

The Ilyushin Il-76 landed in Auckland from Tokyo via Cairns just before 8pm on Thursday night.

The presence of such a large aircraft in what have become relatively empty skies above Auckland got the attention of many.

Speculation was rampant on social media as to why the aircraft had flown to New Zealand, with most reckons suggesting the plane was carrying millions of rapid antigen tests in preparation for the Omicron outbreak. 

Another potential reason suggested was that the plane was here to collect two massive General Electric GE90 engines taken from an Air New Zealand 777 and in need of maintenance in the United States.

However, the massive aircraft was actually carrying a StriX satellite to Rocket Lab ahead of its launch in 2023.

When launched, the Synspective synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite will deliver imagery that can detect millimetre-level changes to the Earth's surface from space, independent of weather conditions on Earth and at any time of the day or night.

While the aircraft that brought it here isn't quite as high-tech, it's pretty good for its age of 48 years.

The Ilyushin Il-76 has a maximum take-off weight of nearly 200 tonnes and has a wingspan of 50.5 metres.

The aircraft is due to leave Auckland on Friday evening, less than 24-hours after its arrival.