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 entities) carrying out space launches or satellite activities from other countries.
The regulations to support the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act 2017 came into force in 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.
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
International regulators and agencies
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(external link) in place with the US Federal Aviation Administration and is working on agreements with other regulators.
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.