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Ecological risk assessment of the impact of debris from space launches on the marine environment

Publication date:  August 2017
Publication reference number:  CR 285

The Ministry for the Environment commissioned the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research to assess the environmental risks to the Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf of threats arising from jettisoned material from space launch vehicles.

The assessment expands on a previous study conducted in 2016. The 2017 study increases the assessment area to encompass the EEZ and extended continental shelf to the north, east and south of New Zealand. It considers a single splashdown to consist of 40 tonnes of debris (the amount of material likely to be jettisoned from the largest vehicle proposed to be used in New Zealand in the foreseeable future), in a worst-case scenario where none of this material burns up during descent but is all deposited on the seabed. The study considers the way effects could accumulate with repeated launches and the effects of other activities.