New Zealand Law Society - Regulatory change proposed for space rocket launches

Regulatory change proposed for space rocket launches

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The Government is seeking to extend the area of the oceans where debris from space rockets launched from New Zealand shores might fall.

Environment Minister Nick Smith says the Government is seeking public feedback on how to best manage space rocket activity and its environmental impacts in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the Extended Continental Shelf (ECS).

“Space rocket launches are a new and exciting industry for New Zealand, which the Government wants to help develop in a safe and responsible way,” says Dr Smith.

“These latest proposals are about further assisting this technologically advanced industry to grow while ensuring we maintain our high environmental standards.

“The environmental issue from space vehicle launches is that before it reaches orbit, some material is jettisoned and falls back to earth. This material may burn up in the atmosphere but some may land in the waters of New Zealand’s EEZ and ECS, sink and deposit on the seabed.

“The impacts of this have been assessed as small, and the proposal is that this be a permitted activity for all ocean area to the north, east and south of New Zealand, subject to a standard set of conditions. The conditions limit the number of launches to 100, require a 14-day public notification of the launch and flight path, and post-launch reports on the activity.”

Rocket Lab, an American-New Zealand aerospace company, made the first orbital-class rocket launch from a private launch site in the world in late May from northern Hawke’s Bay.  

“We welcome feedback on these pragmatic proposals to extend the area of the oceans in which there might be space rocket debris. There have already been rocket launches from the Mahia Peninsula and the Government wants to provide a practical regulatory regime in which the industry can continue to grow.”

Public consultation is now open and closes on 13 September 2017. A discussion paper and environmental risk information are available at