Rocket Lab formally creates Warfare and Spy wing.

Nā Rocket Lab Monitor

The announcement by Rocket Lab earlier this month that the company has established a division dedicated to warfare and spy operations comes as no surprise to anyone that has followed the payloads and customer base.

The founders had different views on military customers, ultimately leading to one of them leaving. The remaining founder promised Mahia residents that there would not be military launches from their land while he was trying to get Council consents for the launch site. Wairoa District Council granted the consents within ten days of being lodged with no wider public or mana whenua consultation and a report from a Council staff member saying local Māori were all in favour of the proposal.

The law governing the activities of Rocket Lab in New Zealand is currently being reviewed, with submissions closing just over a month ago after a short period of consultation and very little public engagement by MBIE or Minister Stuart Nash.

The Outer Space and High-Altitude Activities Act (2017) definitely needs some changes.

There are six specific areas that should be addressed in the review:

1. Better defining the ‘national interest’ test for space-related activities: we need to better understand how payloads that could be used for both conventional and nuclear weapons systems are treated in relation to what is considered ‘the national interest’ and to make it explicit that payloads intended for use by foreign militaries and signals/communications intelligence gathering (whether state agencies or private organisations) are not permitted.

2. Committing to only permitting activities that are for peaceful purposes: New Zealand has made international commitments to only contribute to peaceful purposes in space. Permitted launches have included a range of payloads that are explicitly contributing to the development of weapons guidance and targeting systems as well as spying technology for private companies and the US military. These kinds of payloads are inconsistent with commitments to ‘peaceful purposes’.

3. Increased transparency on payloads: Each application for launches should be publicly notified with details of the payload contents, purpose and client with a short timeframe for public submissions prior to Ministerial decision.

4. Clarification of Te Tiriti obligations in relation to space activities: A proper assessment of Crown obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi for policy and permitted activities that impact on Māori rights and responsibilities provided for by Te Tiriti should be undertaken and outcomes incorporated into the updated legislation and related policies.

5. Guidance on acceptable and unacceptable environmental impacts: MBIE has not quantified the current and future contribution of greenhouse gas emissions from this new industry, that seems like a critical oversight given the country’s commitments to reducing rather than increasing emissions. A modest and sinking emissions cap should be put on emissions permitted from this new industry from the start.

6. Establishing independent oversight over space-related activities: Like the security intelligence service, because of the close connections this sector has with foreign governments, militaries and intelligence agencies and companies, an independent watchdog should be established to monitor compliance with the legislation and report to Parliament to prevent any Government or agency straying outside of the boundaries provided by the updated legislation.

Rocket Lab is now based in the USA and is owned almost entirely offshore – what it does elsewhere is up to any country where it operates, but citizens here still have the opportunity to decide what is permissible in this country based on what is in our best interests.

Other space companies are starting up in New Zealand, we need to be very clear about what is and is not acceptable before the industry gets any more influential on the rules that supposedly govern it.


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