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New space age laws for rocket launches

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 14/06/2016 By Sarah Robson

With a Kiwi company ramping up its plans to begin commercial rocket launches, the government's decided it needs some new laws fit for the space age.

Rocket Lab wants to start launching rockets commercially from the Mahia Peninsula, but before that can happen, Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce says New Zealand needs to introduce a new regulatory framework.

"We are gearing New Zealand up to be part of the space economy," he told reporters on Tuesday.

A proposed new law - the Outer Space and High Altitude Activities bill - will ensure rocket and other high altitude vehicle launches from New Zealand are done safely and in accordance with New Zealand's national interests and international law.

New Zealand has also reached a Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA) with the United States, which covers the use and protection of US-sourced rocket and satellite technology in New Zealand.

"The same technology which is used to launch rockets into space is very similar to technology which is used to launch missiles, for example, so it needs to be protected," Mr Joyce said.

"What we have agreed with the US is there will be protected areas in New Zealand for this technology."

Protected areas would include the launch site on the Mahia Peninsula and Rocket Lab's Auckland headquarters.

The areas would have to meet US security obligations, but New Zealand agencies such as the police, customs and the Ministry for Primary Industries would retain full access to them and authority over them.

The New Zealand government will have the final say over what exactly gets launched into space.

Mr Joyce said the US doesn't want to see New Zealand used as a "backdoor entry" for space launches for countries that might have "nefarious aims".

Under the TSA, New Zealand can't allow the launch of spacecraft from countries subject to UN sanctions or countries with governments that have repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism.

"New Zealand gets to determine according to its own laws and policies what payloads go into space from these launches," Mr Joyce said.

"The US is just saying we want to be sure that the ones that go into space using our technology are not from these countries that are not responsible actors on the world stage."

Rocket Lab hopes to begin test launches in August.

Once up and running, the company could be launching rockets from the Mahia Peninsula as frequently as once a month.


* Proposed new Outer Space and High Altitude Activities bill

* Technology safeguards agreement between New Zealand and the US

* Sign up to the UN convention on registration of objects launched into outer space

* Join the UN committee for the peaceful uses of outer space.

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