Outer space and high-altitude activities regulatory system

This page describes the outer space and high-altitude activities regulatory system and its objectives. It also lists the other government agencies involved in the system and main stakeholders.

System description and objectives

The New Zealand Space Agency (NZSA) supports the growth of a safe, responsible, and secure space industry that meets our international obligations and manages any liability arising from our obligations as a launching state. The team achieves these objectives principally by ensuring applicants for or holders of authorisations are meeting regulatory requirements. Authorisations include launch licences, launch facility licences, high altitude licences, and payload permits.

System portfolios and agencies

The NZSA is responsible for administering the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act 2017 (“OSHAA”). As part of this, the NZSA coordinates with other entities to ensure regulatory outcomes.

Domestically, the NZSA has a memoranda of cooperation in place with other entities that have a role in the regulatory system:

  • WorkSafe,
  • the CAA, and
  • Protective Security Requirements.

OSHAA also allows some requirements to be at least partially met with foreign authorisations – this is especially relevant to Rocket Lab, which is a U.S. company. We have a memorandum of cooperation in place with the US Federal Aviation Administration, recently updated in 2024.

We coordinate the Operational Coordination Group, which supports active risk management for government agencies that have an operational role in Rocket Lab launches and operations, including the New Zealand Police and Fire and Emergency New Zealand. We furthermore interact with other agencies that have overlapping interests, such as Radio Spectrum Management, the Environmental Protection Authority, the Civil Aviation Authority.

OSHAA provides for a broad scope of information sharing with other agencies. We have relationship-specific arrangements in place with these other agencies to ensure smooth coordination.

Regulated parties and non-government stakeholders

Regulated parties are those whose activities the NZSA authorises

  • parties conducting launches,
  • running launch facilities,
  • conducting high-altitude activities, and
  • launching payloads (that is, “satellites”) in New Zealand.

The NZSA also regulate New Zealand entities that conduct launches or launch payloads overseas. We seek feedback directly from regulated entities affected by our activities – for example, feedback to identify ways to streamline application forms, or to devise operational policies that provide additional guidance to regulated entities. We also engage directly with key sector companies (for example, Rocket Lab, Dawn Aerospace, Kea Aerospace) and with the wider sector at industry events.

Key statutes

OSHAA is our relevant primary legislation. It sets out the purposes of the Act, including facilitating the development of a space sector, ensuring safe and secure operations, implementing international obligations, managing liability, and preserving national security and national interests. It describes when licences and permits are required, how they are issued, and what conditions they may include.

Relevant secondary legislation is the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities (Licences and Permits) Regulations 2017 (“the Regulations”), which identifies information required of all applicants, as well as the specific information that is required for each licence or permit type.

Another set of regulations, the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities (Definition of High-altitude Vehicle) Regulations 2017, clarifies which vehicles are considered high-altitude vehicles.

Reviews and assessments of the system

OSHAA was subject to a 3-year review, and a report has been published that summarizes the review’s results.

Read the report:

The NZSA is considering the recommendations with a view to introducing legislative changes in due course.

Findings of reviews and assessments

The NZSA carries out numerous reviews and assessments. As such new findings are always generating workstreams to improve our regulatory activities.

At the time of updating this text, several workstreams have been prompted by recent findings. These include workstreams

  • to improve application processing times,
  • to supplement internal capacity,
  • to closely coordinate with partners with whom we regulate novel technologies, and
  • to clarify and communicate emergency response roles.

Planned regulatory amendments

The NZSA are working on potential amendments to OSHAA and the Regulations that were identified during the 3-year review. The review found many potential amendments for OSHAA and/or the Regulations – including on matters relating to high-altitude vehicles, remote sensing and the national interest assessment.

Key service design and operational changes

Major recent activities include:

  • developing an approach to use external expertise;
  • improving application forms;
  • updating website pages;
  • reviewing operational policies;
  • creating and regularly reviewing a summary of all regulatory activities;
  • revising our approach to monitoring launches;
  • systematising interactions with foreign regulators;
  • devising and regularly reviewing our compliance strategy;
  • creating systems and tools to monitor compliance;
  • refining trackers to monitor processing times;
  • updating publicly available registers about authorisations;
  • providing regular reporting to regulatory oversight groups;
  • instituting feedback sessions with payload permit applicants;
  • establishing regular recurring meetings with numerous regulatory partners;
  • updating memoranda of cooperation;
  • refining our strategic emergency response role and communicating this to stakeholders; and
  • developing standard operating procedures regarding debris protection areas.
Last updated: 09 May 2024