Why NZ needs its own space legislation

Opinion: New Zealand needs to develop its own domestic space law as more and more companies enter the realm of space for commercial purposes around the world.

International commercial space law is rapidly changing with advancements in technology, and whilst New Zealand may not itself exhibit quite the same scope of space programmes as the United States, issues of space law are of critical importance to this country, and all states, whether space-faring or not.

New Zealand’s geographical location, whilst not optimal for geostationary orbit satellites, does present an opportunity for the smaller satellite market. New Zealand may well become a hub of smaller satellite activities and commercial enterprise. [See Idealog's in-depth coverage of Rocket Lab's plans for commercial space launches here. Ed.]

The commercial space assets or satellite market itself is undergoing rapid technological change.

With the introduction of smaller satellites, governmental and private agencies can choose between mini, micro, nano, or small satellites, to name but a few of the varieties. Such satellites are cheaper and easier to place, especially into low earth orbit. In comparison to the traditional larger satellites which rely on larger rockets, smaller satellites need less rocket-power to enter space orbits and are (and will be) a cheaper and more viable option. 

The realm of outer space is governed by a series of international multilateral treaties. These treaties pertain to activities undertaken by nations in outer space as well as stating prohibitions on various aggressive activities or technologies. These treaties are also the legal foundations upon which nation-states can base their exploration of outer space and their exploitation of it for commercial enterprise. Similarly, the treaties put in place a framework by which nation-states might be held accountable for their activities. 

But while New Zealand is a signatory to the Outer Space Treaty 1967 and the Liability for Damage to Space Assets Convention 1972, it has no other domestic space law and it has yet to develop national law and policy pertaining to activities in outer space even though New Zealand has substantial interests which are rapidly progressing in this area.

Recent commercial space activities undertaken in New Zealand will open the doors to other potential commercial operators who may wish to launch from New Zealand. With this in mind, it may be fair to suggest that New Zealand’s legal structure may benefit from some specific space legislation. Such legislation might direct governance over the types of acceptable commercial activities which can be undertaken in outer space if launching parties wish to launch from New Zealand. 

In summary, such specific space legislation may facilitate confidence in the development of a domestic space industry incorporating the activities of national or foreign commercial enterprises. 

Dr Maria A. Pozza is a consultant lawyer at Helmore Ayers Lawyers, Christchurch and specializes in the field of aviation and space law.