Student rocket launch ends in blaze

A secret record-breaking rocket launch attempt ended with a grass fire on a remote part of Banks Peninsula and backlash from nearby residents.

Canterbury University group UC Aerospace tried to become the first student group in the world to launch a rocket into space last Sunday morning.

The university said the attempt was not successful but is saying little more about the project.

“This is a story that hasn’t been in the media because they didn’t get out of the earth’s atmosphere,” a spokeswoman said.

But Bay Harbour inquiries reveal the rocket was launched from Kaitorete Spit which protects Lake Ellesmere from the sea about 10am. The rocket, which was planned to crash back into the sea, landed in a paddock, causing a fire which destroyed vegetation, Little River Volunteer Fire Brigade acting station officer Matt Ledgerwood said.

When firefighters arrived, students involved with the project had put the fire out.

“With a bit of bad luck it could have been a lot worse, luckily the grass was quite short and there was no wind,” he said.

Sue Morrow, who lives at nearby Birdlings Flat rushed towards the fire after being alerted of smoke coming from Kaitorete Spit on the Birdlings Flat Community Residents Facebook Page.

“It’s bloody stupid doing that at this time of year when it is tinder dry,” she said.

The fire had been put out by the time she got there.

Little River Wairewa Community Trust chairman Robert Burch labelled the rocket launch as a “silly thing to do.”

“Why are they launching a rocket when we have a total fire ban?” he said.

Kaitorete Spit is home to several rare species of insects, reptiles and birds and is of significant cultural value to Ngāi Tahu due to over 500 archaeological sites being found there.

The Canterbury University launch was part of the international race to become the first university group to blast a rocket beyond the Karman line.

The Karman line is 100kms above the earth’s surface and is widely recognised as the boundary to outer space.

The University of Southern California’s rocket propulsion laboratory set the highest altitude reached by a university group in March 2017 at 44kms.