Funding for space exploration will help restore a unique natural habitat and preserve a landscape that was sacred to generations of runanga.
A 1000 hectare block of land on the Kaitrete Spit near Christchurch may become home to a new rocket launch site.
The land has been bought by a joint venture between the government and two local rnanga, Te Taumutu Runanga and Warewa Rnanga, called Project Twhaki.
The venture aims to develop aerospace research facilities, including a possible launch pad.
It will also protect and rejuvenate the unique Kaitrete ecosystem with fencing, limited farming activity, and the planting of 5000 native plants over two years.
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KaitÅrete Spit, near Christchurch, could be developed into a space rocket launch site.
The 1000 hectares were bought from farming company Wongan Hills with $16 million of Crown funding.
The sale is part of an agreement with Wongan Hills related to an Environment Court case brought by Forest & Bird. The case claimed the company destroyed a large area of rare and threatened native plant, called shrubby tororaro, on the spit.
Research, science and innovation minister Megan Woods said the joint venture was focused on conservation management, investigating consents and technical feasibility for an aerospace research and launch site on the spit, and attracting aerospace investment in the project.
The 1000 hectares purchased for $16 million sit in the middle of the spit.
We are all in agreement that any aerospace activity must be compatible with the protection of [the spit’s] threatened plants, animals and ecosystems, she said.
This is about seeing what investment attraction we can bring here.
We are not talking about a very large built facility. It can be quite a small footprint on this land. But that allows us to unlock the potential.
Kaitrete Spit’s landscape is a unique ecosystem, home to many rare and threatened endemic wildlife.
The two rnanga are represented in the joint venture by a new company called Kaitrete Limited. Company director David Perenara-OConnell said the venture would hopefully provide funding for the rejuvenation of the spits unique ecosystem.
Kaitrete Spit is home to rare and locally endemic plant, invertebrate and reptile species, with internationally recognised ecological value.
This is the first time that the two rnanga have come together like this on a commercial venture that seeks to provide great benefits to the area that we both hold so deep in our hearts.
Revenue from a possible rocket launch site would be used to restore and rejuvenate the spit.
He said the spit was a significant historical site.
Historically, Kaitrete was our tribal State Highway One, a major highway and trade route for our ancestors.
It is our role and duty to make sure we honour this past those who have lived, travelled and fallen in this special area by protecting and restoring its values and reaffirming our relationship to this whenua for future generations.
The spit of land is near Birdling’s Flat outside Christchurch.
The land will be on a three-year lease back to former owner Wongan Hills as part of the transition. The lease revenue will help fund early research and conservation work.
He said the project was called Project Twhaki after a demi-God in Mori mythology who climbed into the heavens.
We have chosen the name as it speaks to the heart of what all this is about.
In climbing to the heavens, Twhaki sought the knowledge and understanding to guide and support a way of life on earth.
Kaitrete Spit was considered as a possible launch site for RocketLab in 2015 due to the low number of planes or boats using the area and its easy access to Christchurch.
A 2015 computer generated image for how a rocket launch site might look on Kaitorete Spit, near Birdlings Flat in Canterbury.
However, Rocket Lab eventually settled on the Mahia Peninsula because the resource consent allowed more launches per year. The Kaitrete site was given consent to launch only 12 rockets per year.
The spit also has a history of aerospace research, as it was used by NASA for suborbital rocket launches in the 1960s.
New Zealands space economy was valued at $1.7 billion in the 2018/9 financial year, employing 12,000 people.
Then Prime Minister, John Key, left, and Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, at the proposed Rocket Lab launching site on Kaitorete Spit, near Lake Ellesmere, Canterbury in 2015.
Mark Rocket, chief executive of unmanned high-altitude solar aircraft company Kea Aerospace, said Christchurch was already a gateway to the Antarctic and would soon be a gateway to space.
Dawn Aerospace, which makes reusable rockets designed to carry small satellites into space, welcomed the proposed facility.
We look forward to hearing from Kaitrete Limited and the government with details of their proposed services, facilities and offering, a spokeswoman said.