Our regulatory regime

Our regulatory regime 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 Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act 2017 (the Act)

The Act came into force in December 2017. The Act regulates — through licences or permits — launches into outer space, launch facilities, high-altitude vehicles (HAVs) and payloads. It's administered by the New Zealand Space Agency within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act 2017(external link) — New Zealand Legislation website

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
  • an orbital debris mitigation plan that meets any prescribed requirements
  • that the proposed activity is consistent with New Zealand’s international obligations
  • the applicant and the proposed operation of the payload or payloads under the permit meet any other prescribed requirements.

Even if these requirements are met, the responsible minister responsible 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 recognise 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 i.e. NZ citizens, permanent residents or body corporates established under NZ law) carrying out space launches or satellite activities from other countries.

Background to the Act

The documents below provide a background to the development and passing of the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act 2017.

The regulations

The regulations to support the Act came into force on 21 December 2017. They are the:

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
  • requirements for an orbital debris mitigation plan
  • requirements for safety cases for launch licences, launch facility licences and (non-aircraft) high-altitude vehicles
  • clarification regarding which vehicles that go (or are capable of going) into high-altitude are not high-altitude vehicles (HAVs) for the purposes of the Act, and hence won’t require a licence.

Why 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.
Last updated: 06 April 2022