22 Jan 2020

Greens concerned as RocketLab launches for US military agency

From Checkpoint, 5:37 pm on 22 January 2020

The Greens want the government to take a tougher line on firing cargo into space - or so-called payloads - for foreign interests ahead of Rocket Lab's launch for a US military agency in charge of US intelligence satellites.

The launch window for the mission "Birds of a Feather" is scheduled for January 31, lifting off from Launch Complex One on Mahia Peninsula.

Past missions have been for other US agencies including NASA, the Air Force and Special Operations Command. Each launch requires ministerial sign-off but some payloads are legally banned - such as those carrying nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction.

Green MP Gorhiz Gharaman told RNZ political editor Jane Patterson the rules are too loose and could put at risk our national interests.

A spokesperson for the Space Agency, based at MBIE, Peter Crabtree, says there's a rigorous approval process, that the NRO launch has passed.

He says the payload is classified because of the nature of the data being collected, so the government could not comment on its intended end use.

But Dr Crabtree says there is a deep and long-standing security relationship between the US and New Zealand and a "high level of trust" between the two countries.