National interest considerations
The following provides an overview of national interest considerations and processes, in particular for regulating payloads for launch in New Zealand, or by New Zealand entities overseas.
Mandatory requirements in the Act
Section 17 of the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act 2017 sets out the criteria for granting a payload permit – including the safe management and operation of the payload, an orbital debris mitigation plan that meets prescribed requirements, consistency with New Zealand’s international obligations, and any other prescribed requirements. If these critieria are met, the Minister can grant a payload permit.
National interest, a final safeguard in the Act
However, Section 17 also outlines that the Minister may decline to grant a payload permit if not satisfied the proposed operation is in the national interest.
In considering the national interest, the Act notes that the Minister may have regard to:
- economic or other benefits to New Zealand of the proposed operation;
- any risks to national security, public safety, international relations, or other national interests;
- the extent to which the risks can be mitigated by licence or permit conditions; and
- any other matters that the Minister considers relevant.
Broad discretion when considering national interest
Although these factors are listed as possible considerations, the national interest, and what would be contrary to it, is not defined in the Act. Instead, the Act grants the Minister broad discretion to decide on a case-by-case basis whether granting a payload permit would be contrary to the national interest. This approach has advantages over a more rigid test, that, for example focussed on certain payloads or payload classes. This ensures that the Act is an enduring piece of legislation that can easily respond to changes in the global risk environment, both on Earth and in space, and government priorities.
Conditions to apply to licence or permit
Under section 18 of the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act 2017, a permit holder must comply with any other conditions that the Minister considers necessary or desirable in order to:
- give effect to New Zealand’s international obligations; or
- protect national security or other national interests; or
- ensure public safety; or
- avoid potentially harmful interference with the activities of others in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space; or
- minimise the risk of contamination of outer space or adverse changes in the earth’s environment; or
- manage New Zealand’s potential liability under international law (including under the Liability Convention and the Outer Space Treaty).
Ministerial decisions informing national interest considerations
As part of policy to inform the language in the Act, Cabinet has agreed to principles which inform the consideration of national interest for space activities, as well as setting out some specific activities that are not in New Zealand’s national interests.
In 2019, Cabinet set out principles which guide decisions on space activities authorised by New Zealand.
New space payload principles protect the national interest(external link) — Beehive website.
These principles are:
- Responsibility – space activities from New Zealand should promote an orbital environment where users avoid causing harm or interference with the activities of others.
- Sustainability – space activities from New Zealand should preserve the benefits of space for future generations through adherence to sustainable practices.
- Safety – space activities from New Zealand should not jeopardise the safety of people on the ground or in space.
- Space activities authorised by the Government should reflect New Zealand’s values and interests, and align with broader policy settings.
Activities inconsistent with New Zealand’s national interest
Cabinet also outlined payload types that will not be permitted because they are not in New Zealand’s national interests or they breach New Zealand’s laws and our international legal obligations:
- Payloads that contribute to nuclear weapons programmes or capabilities.
- Payloads with the intended end use of harming, interfering with, or destroying other spacecraft, or space systems on Earth.
- Payloads with the intended end use of supporting or enabling specific defence, security or intelligence operations that are contrary to government policy.
- Payloads where the intended end use is likely to cause serious or irreversible harm to the environment.
All payloads considered on a case-by-case basis
In April 2023, Cabinet agreed that there would be no blanket ban on permitting payloads with national security applications under the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act 2017. A ban on such payloads would preclude considering New Zealand’s interests at the time of assessing permit applications. All payloads with national security applications will continue to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
The Space Policy Review: National Space Policy Cabinet paper is available here.
New Zealand has already launched payloads with national security applications, none of which have been assessed to be inconsistent with our national interests. Any application to launch a payload which is inconsistent with our domestic laws and policies and/or our international obligations, will not be progressed.
See 'International obligations and space' for further information on New Zealand’s international obligations in relation to space – including examples of relevant international obligations considered for payload permitting decisions).
Process for considering national interests - payload permit applications
The following is a high-level description of the regulatory process undertaken by officials for payload permits when considering national interests for payload permit applications:
- Producing Technical Capability and Intended End Use document: A Technical Capability and Intended End Use (TCIEU) document is produced by MBIE officials based on relevant information from the application materials. It is presented in an accessible format for interagency consultation. This information includes: mission and purpose; country of jurisdiction; altitude and inclination; technical capability of the payload (i.e. physical dimensions, primary system, power subsystem, communications, attitude control, propulsion, remote sensing); and intended end use of the payload.
- Undertaking National Interest Risk Review: The National Interest Risk Review draws from the information in the TCIEU and allows relevant agencies to review potential risks associated with a permit (e.g. risks related to international relations or national security ). The impact and likelihood of the risk occuring is considered, as well as any appropriate mitigating factors (e.g. whether risk could be reduced by attaching conditions to the payload permit).
The risk review process aligns with other regulatory assessments and previous policy decisions, including the payload permitting principles agreed by Cabinet in 2019. Officials are commencing a process to consider amendments to the risk review process in light of the values and objectives from the National Space Policy, approved by Cabinet in April 2023, and feedback from the Space Policy Review public consultation.
- Gathering further information from applicants as necessary: Applicants are required to provide prescribed information on the capability and intended end-use of the payload. If insufficient information is provided, MBIE engages with applicants to request additional information, to ensure the nature of the payload and its planned activities are understood. All payload permit applications are assessed by technical experts.
- Minister Responsible for the GCSB and NZSIS advised of national security risks: In parallel to the MBIE-led national interest risk review process, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and New Zealand Secret Intelligence Service (NZSIS) undertake a National Security Assessment on each payload and provide a briefing to the Minister(s) responsible for the GCSB and NZSIS.
- Minister approval sought: The Minister for Space is provided with a briefing from MBIE officials which includes relevant assessment information and advice on each payload application. They are also separately advised of any risks from the Minister responsible for the GCSB and NZSIS. On the basis of this information, the Minister determines whether or not to grant the payload permit
- Proactive release of payload permit summaries: MBIE advises applicants of the outcome, and releases summaries of payloads permitted in the previous quarter.
See Payloads approved for launch
Foreign government applicants, aligned with strategic interests
While launch capabilities are increasingly in the private sector, governments continue to make up a large proportion of the customer base for launch providers, whether directly or indirectly. These payloads can range from research and development, to operational civil services, to military and intelligence payloads. All payloads, including those owned by foreign governments, must meet the tests outlined above required under OSHAA.
To date, no payload permit or licence application has been declined on the grounds that it was contrary to New Zealand’s national interest. The range of activities that have been authorised so far offer direct and indirect benefits to New Zealand’s economy as well as our international space and security relationships.
Workstream in progress
The statutory review of the Act did not suggest any changes to the national interest provisions in the Act or its regulations but did recommend that the Minister considers developing more specific national interest criteria.
Following feedback from the Space Policy Review consultation, officials are undertaking a national interest workstream to implement the National Space Policy objective of “clarifying what space activities are inconsistent with New Zealand’s national interest”.
The workstream will consider amendments to the existing national interest risk review process in light of the values and objectives from the Policy and feedback from the Space Policy Review consultation.