NZ Space Agency not aware of any US interest in Canterbury rocket launches

The National Space Agency says it is not aware of any interest from the United States Space Force in conducting rocket launches from Canterbury’s Kaitorete Spit.

That is despite the US saying it needs access to launchpads in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Crown-iwi joint venture at the spit, the Tāwhaki National Aerospace Centre, is talking to international companies to gauge demand for launches.

It previously said it might work with “appropriate partners” on building multiple launch pads at the spit, south of Christchurch.

A business case on how this stacks up is due by the end of the year.

But the National Space Agency said it had not engaged in any way with the US Space Force regarding Kaitorete.

“We are not mandated nor resourced to lead engagements between other NZ space sector organisations and their prospective customers,” the agency, which falls under the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, said.

Government papers show New Zealand is looking for commercial opportunities to come out of a big ramping-up of the US military’s space race with China between now and 2027.

US Congress ordered a report in 2023 on Five Eyes partners’ capabilities for “responsive” launches of satellites for the Pentagon. ‘Responsive’ launches are rapid launches in the event of an emergency or war.

The US Department of Defence has also adopted a new strategy to put billions of dollars into many more private sector space contracts in the US and approved partner countries.

A New Zealand government briefing said: “This has potential for the New Zealand space sector as the DoD is looking to widen its use of commercial solutions.”

The government told the US in April it welcomed the strategy “and is interested to know how New Zealand’s commercial space providers can support this approach”.

The NZ Defence Force has noted that it is almost fully reliant on space assets owned by other countries, but is keen to acquire more of its own.

Despite this, the National Space Agency said it “has not engaged with the US Space Force on launch from Tāwhaki nor with the US Department of Defense nor the New Zealand Defence Force”.

Unlike many other countries, Aotearoa’s local space sector was predominantly commercial rather than government-led, it added.

“We … broadly promote New Zealand space sector capabilities and the advantages of launching from New Zealand.”

The agency’s tasks included advising Space Minister Judith Collins on regulations, and promoting research and development and investment, it said.

It did talk to the Pentagon about payload permit applications – several US spy satellites have been launched from Mahia – and regularly engaged with a range of US agencies on international space policy.

As for the Tāwhaki business case, “it is up to Tāwhaki who they speak to as part of this process”, the space agency said in a statement.

RNZ has put questions to the Defence Force regarding its space activities. It recently set up an unclassified satellite-monitoring cell in Auckland at the US’s behest.

The space agency’s deputy head Andrew Johnson did not agree to an interview request.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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