24 May 2024

NZ companies could benefit from US military space strategy, documents show

8:29 am on 24 May 2024
Rocket Lab mission about to launch at Māhia - mission to look for space junk on behalf of Astroscale Japan

Rocket Lab owns the only spaceport in New Zealand, at Māhia Peninsula. Photo: Supplied / Rocket Lab

New Zealand supports a United States military strategy to get hold of commercial space technologies in a conflict, including in a "surge" if required.

The approach was outlined in a government briefing, which also revealed Aotearoa was looking for a way for local companies to cash in on the new strategy.

The briefing, prepared for Space and Defence Minister Judith Collins ahead of her meeting with US political and military leaders in April, said: "New Zealand welcomes the [US Department of Defence] commercial space integration strategy and is interested to know how New Zealand's commercial space providers can support this approach."

Collins reiterated that approach in a statement to RNZ late on Thursday.

The Department of Defence put out the strategy in late April on the heels of taking a much more aggressive stance in space.

It said its new top priority was to "ensure access to commercial solutions across the spectrum of conflict".

It had to be able to "surge commercial capacity to meet military requirements", and might pull rank and make a company fulfil defence contracts ahead of others in "specific situations", the Department of Defence said.

The briefing to Collins said New Zealand was the pre-eminent example of launch cooperation among the Five Eyes intelligence grouping, and was interested in building on that "proven track record".

"Space cooperation from New Zealand has time, cost and resiliency advantages for the US and serves to develop New Zealand's space sector. It also strengthens the security relationship between our two countries," it said.

A crucial pursuit for the US is the greater ability to quickly launch satellites or space vehicles in a crisis or conflict - what it calls "responsive launch".

US Space Command emblems

US Space Command emblems Photo: Supplied

The briefing said New Zealand's "agile" space regulatory framework had been proven to support "responsive" launches from within the country.

The practice of signing up private companies to help with military space expansion has recently become key. There are plans to ramp it up a lot more as part of a multi-billion-dollar expansion of what US generals call their "warfighting capabilities" in space by 2027.

Two of the generals who met Collins on her US visit were among those loudly making the case for the practice, saying the US must catch up to China and Russia, which they have warned were on track to deploy lasers, highly advanced satellite targeting of weapons, and even, eventually, nuclear weapons in space.

The briefing to Collins ahead of her meeting with US assistant secretary of defence for space policy Dr John Plumb said she should emphasise New Zealand's ability to work with the Pentagon on space operations.

"Reinforce that New Zealand is already a trusted space partner," it said.

The new US commercial space strategy increased the possibility of space companies in "close US partner nations" benefiting, the document said.

"This has potential for the New Zealand space sector as the DoD is looking to widen its use of commercial solutions."

In a statement, Collins said the only New Zealand spaceport was Rocket Lab's at Māhia Peninsula.

Talks over the use of that would be commercial in nature and conducted with the owners directly, she said.

"The government supports space launches from New Zealand by providing an agile regulatory regime that keeps pace with innovation and supports the safe and responsible use of space.

"We have a strong space relationship with the US, supported by both government and commercial partners and are looking to grow the sector further through a range of opportunities."

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