Proposed regulation of jettisoned material from space launch vehicles in New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone

Space vehicle launches are a new activity in New Zealand and it is expected that they will deposit some material on the seabed in New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone. The Government is considering how best to manage this new activity and recently sought feedback on its proposed regulation.

This page provides information on the proposed regulation.

Update on the proposed regulation

The Government recently consulted on the the proposed regulation. Submissions closed on 16 September 2016. All submissions will be carefully considered and a report on submissions will be published on this website. Further work will be undertaken to refine proposals and draft regulations for approval by Cabinet.

Read the discussion document for information on the proposed regulation.

Purpose of the proposed regulation

Space vehicle launches are a new activity in New Zealand and it is expected that they will deposit some material on the seabed in our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Government is considering how best to manage this new activity and is seeking feedback on which classification under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 (EEZ Act) is most appropriate for managing the potential effects on the environment and existing interests.

Why the proposed regulation is needed

In September 2015, Wairoa District Council granted Rocket Lab resource consents to build and launch space vehicles from the Mahia Peninsula. After a space vehicle is launched but before reaching orbit, material from the vehicle is jettisoned and falls back to Earth. Some of the material will burn up in the atmosphere but some may land in the waters of the EEZ, sink and get deposited on the seabed.  

The deposit of jettisoned material on the seabed is a new activity that has not previously been classified or considered under the EEZ Act. This means it is automatically treated as a discretionary activity and requires a fully notified marine consent.

Considerations for the proposed regulation

How an activity is classified depends on the potential for adverse effects on the environment and existing interests.

An activity can be:

  • prohibited  ̶  meaning it cannot be undertaken in any circumstances
  • permitted  ̶  meaning it can occur and does not require a marine consent as long as it meets certain conditions
  • non-notified discretionary  ̶  meaning a marine consent is required before the activity can begin but the application process does not require public notification
  • notified discretionary  ̶  meaning  a marine consent is required before the activity can begin and the application process provides an opportunity for public submissions.

The Minister for the Environment can make regulations under the EEZ Act to classify the deposit of jettisoned material but must take into account a number of factors including the:

  • effects on the environment and existing interests of allowing the activity with or without a marine consent
  • importance of protecting rare and vulnerable ecosystems
  • nature and effect of other marine management regimes.

Regulations cannot provide for an activity to be permitted if the Minister considers that the activity is likely to have adverse effects on the environment or existing interests that are significant in the circumstances, and if it is more appropriate for the adverse effects to be considered in relation to an application for a marine consent.

Effects from jettisoned material depositing on the seabed

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) were commissioned to undertake a marine environmental risk assessment of the effects of a space launch vehicle jettisoning material in three areas in the EEZ.

The risk assessment indicated that the effects of material on the seabed from one space vehicle launch a week over a two year period (100 launches) is minor. 

The risk of a vessel being directly impacted by a fragment falling back to Earth is remote. However, notices to mariners and navigational warnings will inform vessels of launch activities and potential landing zones. This could result in temporary relocation of fishing effort.

Read NIWA's report: Marine ecological risk assessment of the cumulative impact of electron rocket launches

Reviewed:
29/08/16