The New Zealand government and the Runanga assemblies, which represent the country’s indigenous Maori people, this month launched plans to make land on the Kaitorete Spit available for aerospace test facilities that could be used for purposes including eVTOL aircraft development. The narrow strip of coastal land, near Christchurch on the country’s south island, offers almost 2,500 acres for approved uses, which could also include a launch site for space rockets.
The land is being offered to aerospace industry groups through a new joint venture between the government Ministry for Research, Science, and Innovation and the Runanga assemblies for the local Te Taumutu and Wairewa Maori communities, represented by Kaitorete Limited. Officials anticipate that the venture, called Project Tawhiki, could generate an annual income of around NZ$300 million ($214 million) within a decade.
The Kaitorete Spit, a thin strip of land that extends almost 16 miles along the coast, has protected ecological status and any uses will need to meet the requirements of a conservation policy. Over the next two years, the joint venture will plant more than 5,000 native plants and trees on the site.
During the next three years, the government and Runanga officials will further develop the project plan and engage with aerospace companies interested in using the space, which is somewhat similar in geography to NASA’s Cape Canaveral site in Florida. In fact, the land was used by NASA in the 1960s for suborbital rocket launches.
California-based eVTOL aircraft developer Wisk is already established in the surrounding Canterbury region, where it is conducting test flights and development work for its two-seat, fully autonomous Cora vehicle. It is already partnered with the New Zealand government, as well as with flag-carrier Air New Zealand and local Maori communities.
Other prospective companies that may wish to use the space on Kaitorete Spit could include high-altitude solar aircraft developer Kea Aerospace and Dawn Aerospace, which is making reusable rockets for satellite launches.
“Suitable sites for a space launch and aerospace testing facilities are scarce globally and this long finger of land along the coast of Canterbury is an ideal location,” commented Megan Woods, minister for research, science, and innovation. “I’m delighted we can come together in partnership with Kaitorete Limited to achieve collective conservation, cultural, and economic wins.”
The New Zealand government spent NZ$16 million to acquire the land at Kaitorete Spit. Ownership of the land and the project is now split 50/50 between the government and the Ruananga assemblies.