Space Commerce

New Zealand Releases New National Space Policy

By Craig Bamford
June 9, 2023
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New Zealand Releases New National Space Policy
The Rocket Lab TROPICS launch from May 2023.
Image credit: Rocket Lab.

New Zealand has released a new National Space Policy on May 31st, 2023. Described in a press release by New Zealand Economics Development Minister Barbara Edmonds as “the next giant leap in New Zealand’s Space Journey,” it reflects the country’s increasingly important role in the global space ecosystem and its very real awareness of the threats to that ecosystem. Edmonds said that the new policy is “presenting a clear and connected picture of New Zealand’s space interests to the world.”

New Zealand, home to both satellite propulsion system manufacturer Dawn Aerospace and launch provider Rocket Lab, has a rapidly growing space sector. According to a 2019 Deloitte report, self-described as “the first estimate of [the NZ space economy’s] size, value and composition,” the total estimated revenue of the NZ space economy was $1.75 billion in 2018-2019: $897 million in direct contribution to the economy, and $789 million in indirect contributions, with a total employment impact of 12,000 full-time equivalent jobs. Deloitte’s report described the economy as “new and growing fast,” and “a unique example of a space economy primarily driven by commercial activity.”

The new policy document is focused on two key goals: it lays out the values that the New Zealand Government is taking into consideration when deciding how to guide the development of the sector, and it describes the objectives that it’s looking to accomplish as a whole. 

There are four key values that the policy identifies:

  • Stewardship: New Zealand aims to “preserve the benefits of space and Earth environments for future generations,” “advocate for the sustainable use of space,” and use space to “understand the Earth environment and better manage natural resources.”
  • Innovation: New Zealand wants to use space to “encourage responsible innovation, science and technology,” with a focus on collaboration with “space sector companies and other governments.”
  • Responsibility: As “outer space is shared by all mankind”, the country will act on the international stage to forward “a peaceful, sustainable, safe and secure space environment.”
  • Partnership: In addition to partnering with international space actors and industry, the New Zealand Government also plans to reinforce partnerships with the public and with the Māori people.

Those values were paired with a series of policy objectives, enacted within the stated framework of respecting their international and national obligations—including “recognizing and reflecting Māori interests” — and supporting the Government’s interests. 

These objectives include:

Growing an Innovative and Inclusive Space Sector.” This includes not only exploiting New Zealand’s “natural benefits for space activities” — including “one of the world’s widest launch angles for rocket launches,” but creating and building partnerships as much as is feasible. Part of that, according to the report, is domestic partnerships, particularly with an eye towards building diversity in the industry, but also involves encouraging and developing international partnerships as well.

Protecting and advancing New Zealand’s national security interests.” The Government notes that the economy is increasingly reliant on space-based assets, and that their national security relies on them as well. Defending those assets will require better understanding and management of “the broad range of security risks in space.” The document emphasizes collaboration and partnerships, owing to New Zealand’s relatively small size and vulnerability. 

Regulating to ensure space activities are safe and secure.” Pointing to the country’s 2017 Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act, the Government aims to facilitate the space sector’s development but prevent any threats to national security or the national interest that may arise from its activities. Specific mention was made of destructive direct-ascent antisatellite (ASAT) weapons as something that New Zealand specifically condemns and forbids. It also names space debris removal as a potential policy priority.

Promoting the responsible uses of space internationally.” Noting both that “New Zealand is party to the main international space treaties” and that “the global space context has evolved in the decades since the agreements were reached,” New Zealand is looking to work to ensure that the “international regulatory framework for all space activities is fit-for-purpose.” The country’s goal is a space environment that is “peaceful, sustainable, safe and secure,” and says that it will be “partnering with like-minded launch states” to adopt practices that fulfill that goal. They also plan to “collaborate internationally to explore space and monitor the Earth.” 

Modeling sustainable space and Earth environments.” The report identifies light pollution, satellites’ effects on astronomy, and other environmental impacts of spaceflight as issues that “further work is required to understand,” and mentions a plan to use space-based resources to “solve sustainability challenges” and invest in sustainable space technologies. The report also says New Zealand is committed to deepening its partnership with the Māori people, and seeks “inclusive collaborations with individuals or groups who are currently underrepresented in the space sector.”

In an email exchange with SpaceRef, Dimitri Geidelberg, Policy Team Leader at the New Zealand Space Agency, said that the policy “both confirms New Zealand’s existing priorities and sets our intentions for the future.” He added that much of it is actually a codification of “values and practices that have guided our work since 2016,” when the New Zealand Space Agency was formed. 

Geidelberg added that the provided four values will be “reflected and promoted in New Zealand’s space activities, engagements, and the use of space technology.” They influence how New Zealand’s government agencies will be working towards achieving the policy objectives stated in the document. 

When asked for a specific example of when the values and objectives affected policy, Geidelberg pointed to MethaneSAT as New Zealand’s “first official space mission collaboration,” saying that it “reflects all four of the values stated in the policy:” It connects New Zealand’s scientists to “world-leading research” in atmospheric and remote sensing, Geidelberg said, assists with tracking climate change and potentially “rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emission” from oil and gas industry methane emissions, and will “lift capability in mission operations” through the University of Auckland and Rocket Lab. 

Geidelberg told SpaceRef that these values are reflected in New Zealand’s restrictions on payloads, and in addition to prohibiting ASAT weapons, the country will not be permitting payloads that “contribute to nuclear weapons programmes,” that have an “intended end use of supporting or enabling specific defence, security or intelligence operations that are contrary to government policy,” or where “the intended end use is likely to cause serious or irreversible harm to the environment.” 

Craig Bamford

Craig is a graduate of Carleton’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, focused on conflict studies.