The Green Party has drafted a member’s bill that would stop companies like Rocket Lab launching “military hardware” into space.
Green Party MP Teanau Tuiono, the party’s security and intelligence spokesman, announced the proposed legisation and attended a protest outside Rocket Lab’s Auckland headquarters on Monday.
Tuiono said, in a statement, that New Zealand’s space industry should not be “used by military actors to launch weaponry”, and the existing Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Bill had “so many gaps and grey areas”.
“Foreign military powers are literally launching rockets through it … Launches from Mahia have carried at least 13 payloads for US military or intelligence agencies.
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“The Government has a responsibility to make sure technologies sent into orbit from New Zealand soil do not assist other countries’ armies to wage war.”
Rocket Lab has in recent launches carried satellites into space for the United State’s National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the US Army, the Mexico Secretariat of National Defence, and for intelligence firm BlackSky Global.
The payloads have included satellites with imaging equipment, and “an experimental 3U CubeSat that will test technologies that support development of new capabilities for the US Army”. Rocket Lab says it does not launch weapons or payloads which contribute to weapons programmes.
Each launch must be approved by the New Zealand Space Agency, which falls under the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment, and the minister for economic development can veto a launch if he does not think it meets New Zealand’s “national interest”.
Tuiono was also critical of the impact of the company’s launches on the Māhia peninsula.
“When we visited Māhia the whānau told us about the absence of local birds and kaimoana and we continue to support the call from whānau for independent cultural and environmental impact assessments.”
Tuiono’s legislation will only be considered by Parliament if drawn from a ballot of member’s bills.
Economic Development Minister Stuart Nash told reporters earlier this month that the Government was comfortable with what Rocket Lab, and its chief executive Peter Beck, were launching into space.
“Peter Beck has been very clear, and we’re also very clear, that in order for a payload to go up in one of Rocket Lab’s rockets, it has to go through a very thorough test,” he said.
“Peter himself has always said he will not put up missile systems. My understanding is every payload from the US military has been around R&D [research and development].”
He said Rocket Lab’s launches were new for Māhia. The peninsula sits within Nash’s Napier electorate.
“My understanding is that Rocket Lab are always very free and able to front up to local concerns, they do this, they hold townhall meetings in Māhia, for Māhia residents, and they answer their questions,” he said.
“There are always people that have concerns, but my experience with Rocket Lab is they’ve always been very open in addressing those concerns.”
A Rocket Lab spokeswoman, in a statement provided to Stuff, said the law was strict and barred the launch of weapons.
“Rocket Lab does not and will not launch weapons or payloads that contribute to weapons programmes or nuclear capabilities. We are steadfast in this commitment. We agree that New Zealand’s space activity should be safe, sustainable and for the benefit of humanity.
“Billions of people around the world, including Kiwis, rely on defence satellite technology every day. For example, things like Google Maps are enabled by GPS, a satellite system owned and operated by the US Air Force. New Zealand and Australian firefighters also relied on US defence satellites during the Australian bushfire crisis in early 2020 to provide communications for coordinating response efforts on the ground.”
Of the 75 payload permits approved prior to March, 41 of these payloads have been for commercial organisations, two for non-profits, 13 for academic organisation, and 17 for government organisations, including other countries’ governments.