NZ's infant space industry already worth $1.69 billion - report

It might come as a shock to some we even have a space industry, but it's apparently worth $1.69 billion to the New Zealand economy, a new report has found.

It employs 5000 people directly and supports another 7000 jobs indirectly, the Deloitte report - commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment - found.

"That number represents firstly the direct contribution in terms of the space economy's own production, but then also on top of that the supporting industries," NZIER principal economist Christina Leung told The AM Show on Friday. 

"It also shows that in this environment where there's a lot of talk on the decline of manufacturing in New Zealand, there are actually opportunities for the manufacturing sector - but they are in very niche areas."

About $247 million of the $1.69 billion total is in space manufacturing, $150 million in space operations, $221 million in ancillary services (support), $119 million in research and development and $10 million in Government (regulatory oversight and policy making). 

But more than half of the New Zealand space economy is actually in analysis and observation data, says Steve Cotter, chief executive of Xerra Earth Observation Institute, which deals in geospatial science and remote sensing technologies.

"These applications provide some of the greatest potential for future economic growth, especially as a contributor to other sectors of the economy, such as forestry, agriculture and fisheries, and in areas such as environmental monitoring, resource management and economic modelling.

"We are facing unprecedented challenges with respect to our environment and the climate, which will impact everyone in New Zealand in the coming years. The key to elevating our decision-making to meet these challenges is by improving the quality and the regularity in which we collect environmental data. Satellites and the Earth observation data they produce have a critical role to play."

Space applications make up just over $1 billion of the total.

Christina Leung.
Christina Leung. Photo credit: The AM Show

Dr Nicholas James Rattenbury of the University of Auckland's Auckland Space Institute says there's been growing demand for graduates who can work in the space sector.

"At the University of Auckland, we want to train our graduates in all aspects of study that support and drive innovation in space science, engineering and technology, and which takes advantage of our position as a new actor in space in a sustainable and ethical way."

New Zealand's $1.69 billion space industry is just a fraction of the world's $647.3 billion total, but not too far behind Australia's $3.5 billion.