NZ gears up for the global space economy

  • Steven Joyce
Economic Development

The Government is putting in place a new regulatory regime to enable safe, secure and responsible space launches from New Zealand, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce says.

“New Zealand is rapidly building a more diversified hi-tech economy, and one of the companies at the very leading edge of technology is our own home-grown start-up, Rocket Lab,” Mr Joyce says.

“The company and its parent company, Rocket Lab USA, are almost ready to start launching rockets commercially, and we need to introduce a regulatory framework so they and others that come after them can operate from New Zealand.”

The regulatory regime consists of a new Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Bill, a Technology Safeguards Agreement between New Zealand and the USA, and a decision to join the United Nations Convention on Registration of Objects launched into Outer Space. It is also New Zealand’s intention to join the UN Committee for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. 

Information about all four decisions is being released today. The Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Bill is in the form of an exposure draft pending finalisation by officials before its introduction to parliament. It will be fully consulted on through the Select Committee process in the second half of this year. 

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is the lead policy agency and will have primary responsibility for administering the new regulatory regime.  

“The space economy is becoming immensely important to the world and is growing and changing rapidly,” Mr Joyce says. “Satellites enable critical services and infrastructure like banking, transport, telecommunications, navigation, remote sensing and national security. As a result there is an increasing demand for small satellite launches.

“New Zealand has the advantage of a geographic location that enables a wide range of orbits with minimal interference to air traffic and shipping. We also have a highly skilled workforce and a safe secure environment.”

Mr Joyce says New Zealand has an opportunity to leverage off the existence of a leading-edge rocket launcher – Rocket Lab – which plans to provide frequent, low cost launch services to a growing international small satellite industry.

“Rocket Lab is using innovative and disruptive technology developed right here in New Zealand and employing highly skilled people in New Zealand,” Mr Joyce says. “Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck is in the mold of other great Kiwi innovators like William Hamilton, Bill Gallagher and Ernest Rutherford.”

Other groups working in the satellite industry include two potential Regional Research Institutes that have been shortlisted to develop business cases with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment – The Centre for Space Science Technology, and Earth+Vantage. NASA and Google have launched high altitude balloons from New Zealand.

“These organisations show there is the opportunity to build New Zealand’s capacity and expertise across a broad spectrum of space and high altitude activities, from rocket technology to the use of satellites to perform functions that benefit our economy, environment and society; as well as attracting off-shore talent and investment into New Zealand,” Mr Joyce says.

“There are also significant economic spinoffs for the East Coast region from the space industry activity. Rocket Lab’s launches from Mahia Peninsula has introduced new investment into the Wairoa District, and they are likely to attract tourists from within and outside New Zealand to observe rocket launches.

“Providing a modern regulatory environment that responds to innovation and enables high-tech industries is a crucial part of building a diversified high value economy.” The emerging New Zealand-based space economy aligns with the innovation stream of our Business Growth Agenda in developing New Zealand as a hub for high-value, R&D-intensive businesses.”

The Cabinet papers and a number of related documents are available here: