General policy statement
The Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Bill (the Bill) establishes a regulatory regime to govern space launches, including both launch vehicles and payloads (eg, satellites), from New Zealand and by New Zealand nationals operating overseas. It also provides a legal framework for high-altitude activities that originate from New Zealand.
The objectives of the Bill are to—
facilitate the development of a space industry and its safe and secure operation; and
implement certain international obligations New Zealand has relating to space activities and space technology; and
manage New Zealand’s liability that arises from its obligations as a launching state; and
establish a system to control certain high-altitude activities that take place from New Zealand; and
preserve New Zealand’s national security and national interests:
Facilitating the development of a space industry and its safe and secure operation
The Bill establishes a licensing regime for launches, launch facilities, and payloads, which includes their ongoing operation over the life of the payload. Space activities create significant opportunities for economic development and innovation, but they also give rise to risks to public safety, national security, and the environment. International practice is to manage risk through a licensing regime (an overarching licence to launch and operate a space object with specific requirements implemented through licence conditions).
While a regulatory regime for space activities is necessary, highly prescriptive or onerous provisions in the legislation would have a deterrent effect on the development of a space industry. To avoid this, the Bill establishes a decision-making framework that will allow a risk-based approach with graduated requirements depending on the level of risk. The responsible Minister will be able to tailor the conditions of a licence or permit to take account of the particular circumstances and risks of the proposed activities.
The purposes of the Bill inform the matters that the responsible Minister must take into account when considering an application under the new regime. The primary purpose of the Bill is to facilitate the development of a space industry and its safe, secure, and responsible operation. This purpose also informs the design of the Bill, which gives the responsible Minister broad discretion on the conditions of a licence or permit. An enabling regime provides the necessary flexibility to respond to rapidly evolving space technologies, space applications, and related market demand.
In order for space launches to take place from New Zealand, the Government has signed a Technology Safeguards Agreement (the TSA) with the United States. The TSA enables the transfer of United States rocket technology to New Zealand and its use and secure management in New Zealand.
The Government has also agreed to accede to the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space done at New York on 14 January 1975 (the Registration Convention). The Registration Convention requires a State Party to establish a register of all objects sent into orbit or space. The Bill contains a regulation-making power that will enable regulations that establish a register of space objects.
New Zealand is already a party to 3 other UN space treaties as follows:
the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the Outer Space Treaty) which was ratified by New Zealand in 1968; and
the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (the Rescue Agreement) which was ratified by New Zealand in 1969; and
the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (the Liability Convention) which was ratified by New Zealand in 1974.
Under the Liability Convention, launching States are absolutely liable to pay compensation for damage caused by their space objects on the surface of the earth or to aircraft in flight. Liability for damage caused elsewhere (ie, after the space object is launched into orbit) is fault-based. The Bill includes a provision that authorises the responsible Minister to require an indemnity against the Crown’s liability and to set licence conditions that require the applicant to take out insurance for a specified amount.
The Bill establishes a legal framework to govern high-altitude activities that originate from New Zealand. This will future-proof the legislation for advances in technology and ensure that different technologies that perform similar functions are treated in a consistent manner. It will also ensure that New Zealand is well positioned to control high-altitude activities that originate from New Zealand.
National security and national interests
The domestic regulation of space launches, payloads, and high-altitude activities is new to New Zealand and requires consideration of how best to manage the national security and national interest risks that may arise from these activities. The Bill establishes a model for managing national security risks comprising a consultation process (this is expected to be sufficient to manage most national security risks) and a certification process (which will act as a veto over the proposed activity in cases where a significant national security risk has been identified).
The Bill includes an offence and penalty regime with penalties aligned with comparable conduct under the Crimes Act 1961 and the Civil Aviation Act 1990. For serious licensing offences (such as launching or procuring the launch of a space object without a permit or intentionally failing to comply with the conditions of a permit), there is a power to arrest offenders and, if necessary, extradite them to New Zealand from another country. Offences related to interference with space objects are necessary to meet our obligations under the TSA, and interference with the intention of use for commercial purposes is akin to the trade secrets offence under the Crimes Act 1961. The Bill provides for the appointment of enforcement officers who will have information-gathering and inspection powers.
Future-proofing the regime
Space technologies are rapidly evolving. There are, for example, new hybrid vehicles that are both aircraft and space craft. To deal with these rapid advances in technology, the Bill contains powers to make regulations prescribing that things or classes of things are or are not launch vehicles, payload, high-altitude vehicles, or launch facilities. This will future-proof the regime and allow for regulations that require only 1 licence where dual functions of a particular technology might otherwise require 2. These regulation-making powers are subject to significant safeguards, including consultation requirements.