Green MP Teanau Tuiono wants to stop Rocket Lab launching weapons into space on behalf of foreign powers

Green MP Teanau Tuiono wants to change the law to stop Rocket Lab from launching weapons into space on behalf of foreign powers.

Tuiono, the Green Party's security and intelligence spokesperson, announced his Member's Bill - legislation proposed by MPs who are not ministers - at a protest outside Rocket Lab's Auckland headquarters on Monday. 

His proposed law change would amend the Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Act and prohibit the launching of military hardware into space from New Zealand. The Bill will only go before Parliament if it's pulled from the ballot box. 

"This change would ensure that Aotearoa New Zealand's space industry and its facilities could never be used by military actors to launch weaponry, establishing in legislation an enduring commitment to peaceful conduct in outer space," says Tuiono.

"The Government has a responsibility to make sure technologies sent into orbit from New Zealand soil do not assist other countries' armies to wage war."

Rocket Lab, a United States-owned but New Zealand-based space company estimated to be worth more than US$1.2 billion, has become a leader in a new market of small rocket services provided by private companies.

It launches satellites into space for the United States military and private companies from Māhia Peninsula, located between Napier and Gisborne.

Some of the launches, such as one dubbed Gunsmoke-J in March this year on behalf of the US Army's Space and Missile Defense Command, have raised questions about New Zealand's role in assisting with foreign warfare. 

Green MP Teanau Tuiono.
Green MP Teanau Tuiono. Photo credit: Facebook

The Gunsmoke-J mission was designed to improve US missile targeting capabilities during combat, which activists from Auckland Peace Action say makes us complicit in US military practices, thereby making New Zealand a military target.

"The US military satellites launched by Rocket Lab can control activity such as communications with troops, surveillance and reconnaissance, intercepting information or spying, and targeting weapons, like drones, bombs, and also nuclear weapons," says Auckland Peace Action spokesperson Eliana Darroch. 

"If we send these satellites into space with US military capacities, we are complicit in the drone and precision bombings and other acts of warfare which the United States does."

She says with New Zealand being a proud Nuclear Free country, and being instrumental in the 2017 international treaty banning nuclear weapons, launching satellites capable of controlling nuclear weapons is unacceptable.

"The New Zealand Government must immediately suspend Rocket Lab's launches until a public review of the Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Act has taken place." 

It is due for review this year.

Rocket Lab launching a rocket from Māhia Peninsula.
Rocket Lab launching a rocket from Māhia Peninsula. Photo credit: Rocket Lab / Twitter

"It is hypocritical for the New Zealand Government to want peace, yet allow Rocket Lab's military payload launches to continue," says Darroch.

"Rocket Lab, with its connections to the Pentagon through its board and investors including a CIA venture capital firm, and Lockheed Martin, is a private company defining New Zealand's foreign relations. 

"Rocket Lab is creating links between New Zealand and the US military that the public have not consented to. That is undemocratic and dangerous."

Tuiono says the Greens are also conscious of the impact successive rocket launches have on the whenua and moana of Māhia. 

"When we visited Māhia the whānau told us about the absence of local birds and kaimoana and we continue to support the call from whānau for independent cultural and environmental impact assessments."

A Rocket Lab spokesperson told Newshub the company does not launch weapons or payloads that contribute to weapons programmes or nuclear capabilities. 

"We are steadfast in this commitment. Further to our own commitment, New Zealand law governs all satellites launched from New Zealand. This law is very strict about what can and cannot be launched.

"Every single satellite payload must be permitted under this law by the New Zealand Space Agency, associated agencies, and the responsible minister. It is not permissible to launch weapons, nuclear or conventional, under this legislation."

She said the Government will not approve payloads that:

  • contribute to nuclear weapons programmes or capabilities
  • harm, interfere with, or destroy other spacecraft, or systems on Earth
  • support or enable defence, security or intelligence operations that are contrary to Government policy
  • Are likely to cause serious or irreversible harm to the environment

Stuart Nash, the minister responsible, must be satisfied that the applicant meets the threshold tests in the law, the spokesperson said. Payloads must be consistent with New Zealand's obligations in relation to:

  • The United Nations Charter
  • International Humanitarian Law
  • International Human Rights Law
  • International obligations and commitments relating to the use of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods announced earlier this year New Zealand's first Government-funded space mission to measure methane emissions from space, with the help of Rocket Lab.  

The New Zealand-US company has won a contract that may send two of its  spacecraft on a mission to Mars in 2024.