Life on New Zealand’s tranquil Mahia peninsula on the North Island was once characterized by surfing beaches, historical landmarks, and bountiful snapper fishing. However, recent developments in the global space industry have brought a new buzz to this serene corner of the world.
Four years ago, Peter Beck, the mind behind Rocketlab, set out to transform the space industry. His vision was to privatize rocket launches, effectively removing them from the exclusive domain of governments in Russia, the US, and China. In a parallel quest, Elon Musk’s SpaceX sought a similar goal.
After extensive exploration around the United States and the world, Beck eventually turned his gaze back to his homeland, New Zealand. It was here that Rocketlab’s Launch Complex 1 was established, marked by an impressive record of ten successful missions with plans for expansion underway.
Rocketlab’s success has helped New Zealand emerge as a significant player in the global space industry, now ranked as the fourth largest contributor. The country’s remote geographical location affords it clear skies and seas, minimal air and shipping traffic, and a wide array of launch angles, making it an ideal destination for space endeavors.
With the perfect blend of technical conditions, a transparent business environment, and a supportive government, New Zealand has garnered attention in the global space community. In just two years, the industry grew to generate $1.75 billion for the country’s economy during the 2018-19 fiscal year, providing employment to 12,000 people.
However, the primary constraint holding back further progress in the space industry is the shortage of talent. Talks are currently in progress with local universities to cultivate and prepare students for careers in this growing field.
The year 2019 saw New Zealand launching as many rockets as Japan, India, and Europe, solidifying its place as a major player, drawing praise from global experts. There’s even talk of New Zealand potentially becoming a world leader in the space industry.
Nevertheless, amid the growing recognition and excitement, concerns are beginning to emerge. The New Zealand space agency, while positioning itself as the most “sustainable” and peaceful participant, has also allowed Rocketlab to launch satellites and payloads for the US defense department, including its intelligence agencies.
The recent announcement of Rocketlab’s first launch of 2020 for the US National Reconnaissance Office, which operates intelligence-gathering satellites, has raised alarms. As tensions escalate, concerns have been expressed regarding the potential use of the US intelligence satellite reconnaissance.
These actions, while not directly related to weapons, have implications for the surveillance and intelligence systems used in space-based nuclear warfare. Critics argue that they align New Zealand more closely with the United States’ desire for a “military space force” and challenge the spirit of anti-nuclear legislation.
Rocketlab asserts that its intentions are rooted in using space for positive endeavors and that their company operates with a strong moral compass. However, the issue remains a topic of public debate and concern.
Furthermore, Rocketlab’s prior project, the “humanity star,” faced strong public backlash. Although it was designed as a reminder of humanity’s place in the universe, it was perceived by many as space graffiti and a frivolous use of space.
This incident highlighted the importance of New Zealanders’ environmental values and their desire to ensure responsible use of outer space. The extent to which New Zealanders are willing to tolerate US spy satellites remains uncertain, with the first launch scheduled in the near future.
As New Zealand’s star rises in the space industry, its commitment to a peaceful, sustainable, and environmentally responsible space presence is a matter that will continue to evolve and be scrutinized. The world will be watching to see how New Zealand shapes its role in the ever-expanding cosmos.
By Impact Lab