A Peek at New Zealand’s Draft “Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Bill”

New Zealand’s Parliament will take up its draft Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Bill in August 2016. The underlying purpose of the Act like most domestic space laws will be to create a private interest in outer space activities for non-government actors in this case those under the jurisdiction of New Zealand. The law will allow launches from New Zealand and the operation of payloads (satellites) from New Zealand as well as facilitate high-altitude (non-outer space) activities such as the World View venture in the United States.

Policy considerations examined before the bill was drafted show the New Zealand government’s primary concern about commercial space activities relate to the implications they may have to New Zealand’s national security, national interests and the effect they might have on the Crown’s international legal obligations, including those to the Outer Space Treaty, the Rescue Agreement and the Liability Convention as well as the legally-binding Technology Safeguard Agreement New Zealand signed with the United States on May 27, 2016.

Some of the highlights of the draft bill:

  • A licensing scheme for private space activities, including compulsory and discretionary launch conditions, duration of the launch license, renewal of the launch license, and modification/revocation of the launch license. This would include discretionary indemnification for any liability incurred by the Crown as a result of private space activities.
  • Payload (satellite operation) permits, including application for and conditions for approval, compulsory and discretionary payload permit conditions,  duration of the payload permit and modification/revocation of the payload permit.
  • Overseas launch license for a New Zealand nationals who perform space activities outside of the territorial jurisdiction of New Zealand.
  • Overseas payload permit for a New Zealand nationals who launch payloads into outer space from facilities outside of New Zealand.
  • Facility licenses to operate a launch facility, including  application for and conditions for approval, compulsory and discretionary conditions, duration of the facility license and modification/revocation of the facility license.
  • High-altitude licenses for activities to be performed by companies like World View whose activities do not venture into outer space, including  application for and conditions for approval, compulsory and discretionary conditions,  duration of the high-altitude and modification/revocation of the high-altitude license.
  • General provisions for licenses and permits.
  • Appointment of enforcement officers, including appointment, enforcement and powers.
  • Security areas and enhances security areas around launch vehicles, payloads and launch equipment.
  • Procedures for accidents.
  • Offenses and penalties for major offenses and infringements.
  • Requirement to notify Minister of intention to develop or acquire missile technology.
  • Grant of authority for the Governor-General to make regulations regarding licenses and permits, registration of space objects, meaning of launch vehicle, payload, and space object, and levy, fees, and charges and other general matters relating to space activities and launch facilities.

New Zealand will also accede to the Registration Convention to harmonize with the international legal regime for registering space objects launched under its jurisdiction.

The draft law is substantial and designed to meet the immediacy of Rocket Lab’s Firefly venture in New Zealand.  Great attention to detail was given to  policy considerations in formulating the Bill, including finding proper balance between regulation and encouraging private space activities. An interesting feature of the the bill is it presupposes foreign nationals and investment to perform space activities under New Zealand’s Article VI authority and Article VIII continuing jurisdiction, which goes without saying since Rocketlab/Firefly is U.S. company.  It also makes allowance for its nationals to launch payloads from foreign jurisdictions and operate the payloads from within its territorial jurisdiction. Whether the bill changes substantively remains to be seen and as such I will defer from doing a full analysis until New Zealand’s Parliament passes the Bill.  From what has been presented thus far the Outer Space and High-Altitude Activities Bill looks to be another impressive candidate for the growing jurisprudence of outer space law.

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