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

Licences and Permits 

All applicants seeking to conduct the following activities from New Zealand must make a licence or permit application:

  • Launch facilities: a fixed or mobile facility or place from which it is intended to launch a launch vehicle and includes all other facilities necessary to launch a launch vehicle (for example, mission control facilities).
  • Launch vehicles: any vehicle, the whole or any part of which reaches or is intended to reach outer space or carries and supports the launch of (or intends to support the launch of) a payload.
  • Payloads: any object that is carried or placed, or is intended to be carried or placed, in outer space.
  • High-altitude vehicles: any aircraft or any other vehicle that travels, is intended to travel, or is capable of travelling to higher than flight level 600 or the highest upper limit of controlled airspace under the Civil Aviation Act 1990.

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.

For more information on the permitting and licencing forms and guidance for applicants see:

Permits and licences for space activities

The below provides information on the key requirements that MBIE assesses applications against.

Assessing Applications

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 (this includes applicants showing that their spacecraft is unlikely to breakup or collide with other spacecraft and will be disposed of safely after the end of its life).
  • 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.

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.

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

National interest considerations

Even if these requirements are met, the Minister may still decline to grant a licence or permit if they’re not satisfied the proposed operation is in the national interest.

In considering the national interest, 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:
  • any other matters that the Minister considers relevant.

The Minister may also choose to apply conditions to a licence or permit, including any considered necessary 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).

National interest principles 

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.

Further information

MBIE release regular summaries of payloads permitted in the previous quarter:

Payloads approved for launch

Further information on regulations and how to make your own application:

Permits and licences for space activities

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: 05 September 2022