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New Outer Space laws and Space Agency announced

22 June 2016 - By James Greenland

Aotearoa has officially entered the Space Age, with the Government announcing a new agency and regulatory framework "to enable safe, secure and responsible space launches from New Zealand".

The New Zealand Space Agency, a part of the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE), will "encourage participation in the global space economy", its website states.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce says the new space law regulatory regime will include new law created by the Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Bill – a draft of which is currently being circulated for public consultation and is scheduled for introduction to the House in August – and a Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA) between New Zealand and the USA.

New Zealand has also become party to the United Nations Convention on Registration of Objects launched into Outer Space, and intends to join the UN Committee for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, Mr Joyce says.

"Space is of immense strategic importance," the Space Agency website states.

"Satellites enable the provision of critical every day services and infrastructure including banking, transportation, electricity, telecommunications, navigation, remote sensing (with applications ranging from agriculture and land-use monitoring to disaster management and climate change) and national security.

"Globally, the space economy is a multi-billion dollar business and becoming more and more pervasive."

Christchurch lawyer (Helmore Ayers) and member of the International Institute of Space Law Dr Maria Pozza, who has been lobbying the Government since 2012 to introduce 'space laws' to New Zealand, says the new regulatory regime and establishment of a dedicated space agency is fantastic news.

"It's early days but long overdue," she says.

"New Zealand has a reputation as a good international citizen.  As technology develops into the realms of outer space, it is important that states like New Zealand have a solid pillar of domestic law and policy in order to ensure compliance with our international legal obligations."

Dr Pozza says MBIE will need to consider its regulatory scope as well as the kinds of high-altitude activities the new Space Agency will regulate – details of which are yet to be worked out and/or made public.

For example, 'outer space' (as per the Bill's title) is not defined in the Bill, and is not defined at international law. Therefore, it's not readily apparent at what altitude the new 'outer space and high altitude' laws would apply instead of existing civil aviation law, Dr Pozza says.

She says the development of space law and a space economy shows that New Zealand is willing and more than able to compete and succeed at the cutting edge of science and technology internationally. Plus, "New Zealand is favourably located geographically for low-earth orbit launches", she says.

Mr Joyce says the new space law regime will particularly benefit New Zealand's own home-grown space start-up Rocket Lab, which specialises in launching relatively lightweight commercial satellites and other payloads into low Earth orbit.

"Space is now open for business", reads the Rocket Lab website.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019