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 system’s objectives are to:

  • facilitate the development of a space industry and provide for its safe and secure operation
  • implement certain international obligations relating to space activities and space technology
  • manage any potential or actual liability that may arise from the space industry, and
  • preserve New Zealand’s national security and national interests.

What the system does

The Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act 2017 regulates — through licences or permits — launches into outer space, launch facilities, high-altitude vehicles (HAVs) and payloads from New Zealand or by New Zealanders overseas.

Why high-altitude vehicles (HAVs) are part of the regulatory regime

Some high-altitude technologies have similar functions to satellites, such as for earth monitoring, communications and internet connectivity.

We already have high-altitude activity happening from New Zealand. These range from small, uncontrolled balloons launched for the purpose of collecting weather data or educating students, to large controllable balloons carrying sophisticated imaging and communications equipment for scientific research.

Including high-altitude vehicles (HAVs) in the regulatory regime is intended to:

  • future-proof the legislation for advances in technology
  • ensure that different technologies performing similar functions are treated in a consistent manner.

How the system operates

The regulatory system is administered by the New Zealand Space Agency within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

Granting licences or permits

The Act contains requirements that applicants must satisfy to be granted licences or permits. These include:

  • the technical capability to safely conduct the proposed activity — for example, a safe launch, or safe operation of the payload
  • the applicant will take, and will continue to take, all reasonable steps to manage risks to public safety
  • an orbital debris mitigation plan that meets any prescribed requirements
  • that the proposed activity is consistent with New Zealand’s international obligations.

Even if these requirements are met, the responsible minister may still decline to grant a licence or permit if — for example — they’re not satisfied the proposed operation is in the national interest, or if national security risks associated with the licence/permit application have been identified.

All activities will also need to comply with all other applicable New Zealand legislative requirements, such as resource consents, health and safety and environmental requirements.

Overseas licences and permits

The legislation allows the responsible minister to treat overseas licences and permits as satisfying some of the New Zealand requirements.

Our regulatory regime and international obligations are extraterritorial — meaning they also apply to New Zealand nationals (or New Zealand citizens, permanent residents or body corporates established under NZ law) carrying out space launches or satellite activities from other countries.

The regulations

The regulations to support the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act 2017 came into force on 21 December 2017. They are the:

  • Outer Space and High-altitude Activities (Licences and Permits) Regulations 2017
  • Outer Space and High-altitude Activities (Definition of High-altitude Vehicle) Regulations 2017

The Act contains broad regulation-making powers, however not all of them have to be used straight away — they’ve been built into the Act to future-proof it.

The regulations that were necessary to implement the Act when it came into force included:

  • requirements for licences and permits — particularly the information that applicants provide an orbital debris mitigation plan and for safety cases in respect to launch licences, launch facility licences and high-altitude vehicles (non-aircraft)
  • clarification regarding which vehicles that go (or are capable of going) to high-altitude are not HAV’s for the purposes of the Act, and hence won’t require a licence.

Ministerial portfolios and key statute

Portfolios Key statute

Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act 2017

Regulatory agencies and their roles

The New Zealand Space Agency, which sits within MBIE, is the lead government agency for space strategy, policy, and regulation.

Collaboration and information-sharing

The New Zealand Space Agency works with the below organisations on regulatory policy and on the licensing and permitting process.

New Zealand Government agencies

  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Ministry of Transport
  • New Zealand Defence Force
  • Ministry of Defence
  • Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet
  • New Zealand Intelligence Community
  • NZ Police
  • WorkSafe New Zealand
  • Fire and Emergency New Zealand
  • Environmental Protection Authority
  • Civil Aviation Authority

Local authorities

  • Territorial authorities
  • Regional councils

International regulators and agencies

  • US Federal Aviation Administration
  • US Federal Communications Commission
  • US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • US Department of State
  • US Department of Defence
  • European Space Agency

International organisations

  • United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
  • Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development

Section 85 of the Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Act 2017 provides for information sharing between agencies.

The New Zealand Space Agency has a Memorandum of Cooperation in place with the US Federal Aviation Administration and is working on agreements with other regulators.

Memorandum of Cooperation(external link) — US Federal Aviation Administration

Regulated parties and main stakeholders

The New Zealand Space Agency engages with a number of regulated parties throughout the licensing and permitting processes, and once licences and/or permits are granted.  The regulated parties are:

  • Licenced launch operators – in particular Rocket Lab whose activities are licenced by both the US FAA and MBIE
  • licenced launch facility operators – in particular Rocket Lab whose private launch facility on the Mahia Peninsula is licenced by MBIE
  • permitted payload operators from various countries and domains including commercial, educational, scientific, government and defence
  • applicants for launch licences and facility licences
  • applicants for launch licences, launch facility licences, payload permits and high-altitude licences

The main non-government stakeholders are:

  • space industry companies, including Rocket Lab and potential private sector applicants
  • universities and other research institutions.

We have regular discussions on regulatory issues with these non-government stakeholders.

Last updated: 12 April 2024