Rocket Lab’s launch hopes rest on upcoming legislation

New Zealand presently lacks any regulatory regime covering rocket-launching activities

Rocket Lab, a US based company founded by New Zealander, Peter Beck, is building what it claims will be the world’s first private orbital launch complex on the North Island’s Mahia Peninsula, but is waiting on legislation now under consideration by a parliamentary committee that it hopes will give it the green light to fulfil its plans.

New Zealand presently lacks any regulatory regime covering rocket-launching activities and to that end the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Bill was introduced into Parliament on 19 September 2016.

This 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 Bill had its first reading speech on 18 October and is now being considered by the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, which is due to report on 18 April. Submissions to the committee closed on 1 December. However the bill’s web site does not show any submissions having been made.

Beck – who founded Rocket Lab a decade ago – told the Wall Street Journal, in a report published on 9 January, that no launch sites in the US had the capacity to cater for Rocket Lab’s planned launch rate of as many as 3000 microsatellites over the next several years. The paper reported him saying: “A small island nation in the middle of nowhere,” was “pretty much exactly what you want.”

The WSJ told its readers that New Zealand was “earthquake-prone, dotted with volcanoes … contain[s] six times as many sheep as people ... [and] doesn’t even have a combat air force, having scrapped its warplanes about 15 years ago to save money.”

Rocket Lab backers include US venture capital firms Khosla Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners, US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin and K1W1, a New Zealand investment company owned by Sir Stephen Tindall.

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