THE usual peace and quiet of the North-East countryside was interrupted after a huge rocket was launched by a space tourism company.

Starchaser Industries, founded by Steve Bennett, fired the eight metre-long Skybolt 2 missile from Northumberland National Park on Monday.

It reached almost a mile into the sky before it broke into three pieces and returned to earth.

Mr Bennett, who set up the company 25 years ago, claims he is just a few years away from launching people into space and said the tests will help him achieve that.

The rocket blasted off the launch vehicle successfully, filling the miles and miles of surrounding moorland with the sound of rocket fuel burning.

Mr Bennett said: “We’re really pleased with that launch, the rocket went really well, it flew nice and high exactly as it should do.

“Then it split apart in its separate pieces, which is one of the key tests we were doing, and two of the three parachutes deployed, which is not a bad day.

“Next for us is a much bigger rocket, that was an 8.3m rocket but we have a 12m rocket big enough to carry a person and we’ll be launching that within 18 months.”

Despite some huge players in the space tourism market, such as Space X and Virgin Galactic, Mr Bennett said he was confident they would have a part to play.

He said: “One of the things we want to do is make space tourism a reality, we want to be launching people into space and this rocket was carrying various systems and experiments that will allow us to do that.

“I set up Starchaser 25 years ago, we’ve built and launched some big rockets and it’s been a long hard road but we’re nearly there and we’re just a couple years away from launching people on holidays into space.

“Space tourism is a big cake and there’s a slice for everyone.

“There’s some people out there with a little bit more money than us but we’ve got a fantastic team of people, we’ve got the University of Chester behind us and we’re going to make this happen.”

Professor Nick Avis, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Research and Knowledge Transfer at the University of Chester, said: “The University of Chester is delighted to support Starchaser and to collaborate on this research project.

“Steve and his team already work with us engaging young people and encouraging them to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subject areas.”