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Government paves way for rocket launches

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 26/08/2016

Space rocket launches from New Zealand will be easier under proposed new regulations.

Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith has released a discussion paper for changes, the main one being that jettisoned material is allowed under Exclusive Economic Zone law.

The discussion document notes the plans of Rocket Lab, a company set up by a New Zealander with US connections.

The company has begun construction of an orbital launch site on the Mahia Peninsula.

The site will be home to the first launch of Rocket Lab's Electron vehicle, designed to lift a 150kg payload to a 500km orbit.

It has said New Zealand's low population and minimal air and sea traffic make it an attractive place to launch rockets compared to other places.

"The existing regulations make provisions for activities like minerals exploration and seismic surveying but did not contemplate a space industry in New Zealand when they were written," Dr Smith said.

An environmental risk assessment concludes the effects and ecological risks are low.

Some of the rocket material will burn up in the atmosphere but some may reach the sea and settle on the seabed.

It would be excessive to require a full environmental consent process costing more than a $1 million and taking nine months for each rocket launch, he said.

"Space rocket launches are a new activity for New Zealand. The government wishes to help develop a peaceful, safe and responsible industry," Dr Smith said.

Submissions close at 5pm on September 16.

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