An aerospace trial has been held near Whangarei only weeks after the entrepreneurial Rocket Lab fired the world's first private rocket into space from Mahia, in the Hawke's Bay.

The local launch was not aimed at outer space, but to introduce the community around Mangakahia Area School to the rocket science students at the small rural school might soon be learning.

A team led by Dr Chris Hann, head of University of Canterbury's Rocketry Project (UC Rocketry), launched three rockets from a special pad - or paddock - on Neville and Donna Russell's Whatiriri farm on Saturday.

Onlookers watched as the 50cm long, 3-D printed rockets were fired 150m into the air before parachutes opened to float them back to the ground.


Dr Hann was in the area as part of a mission to boost schools' NCEA and STEM curriculum subject range.

"The (UC Rocketry) research group has spoken with a number of other schools in the past, but Mangakahia was particularly keen to take it further, and had the right environment," he said.

"There is a suitably remote launch site close by and support from a local farmer to satisfy safety protocols. The school is also close to some former UC Rocketry research students who are willing to supervise the launches and help train Mangakahia teachers.

"If this rocket programme is successful it will be the foundation for taking it to other remote areas in New Zealand, for example in Southland where there has also been interest in bringing rocketry into school education.

"We're always keen to encourage greater diversity in engineering and I'd love it if some of these young rocketeers would find their way to the University of Canterbury when they're older.''

Mangakahia Area School principal Phil Reynolds said the school was very excited about including rocketry as an extension of its current maths, science and engineering curriculum.

''It's a great opportunity for our rural school, and to have that technology and expertise right here, well, our students are very excited.''

The launch on Russell's farm followed conversations that began when a man knocked on their door and started talking about space rockets, Ms Russell said.


"It's not what you expect around here, really."

The man was now-local resident Hoani Bryson, a colleague of Dr Hann and part of the UC Rocketry Project.

Dr Hann had hoped the grass roots rocket science lesson would fly under the public radar but the buzz went statospheric.

Onlookers at the unusual demonstration included Whangarei mayor Sheryl Mai and Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis, school representatives and locals.

As part of Saturday's strict safety regime, the authorities closed the air space above the area - temporarily grounding a swarm of microlight planes on a planned rally between Dargaville and Whangarei.

Ms Russell said she is not sure at this stage whether Whatitiri will become New Zealand's northern equivalent of Nasa - after Mahia, where the NZ founded-US backed Rocket Lab launched a 17m rocket into space last month.