New Zealand Space Agency aims for sustainability, agility, collaboration

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WASHINGTON – The New Zealand Space Agency is moving quickly to develop a comprehensive strategy reflecting its priorities including sustainability, agility and collaboration, said agency head Peter Crabtree.

The agency’s focus on sustainability stems, in part, from the work of Rocket Lab, the launch vehicle company planning frequent flights from its site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. Rocket Lab was founded in New Zealand but is now a U.S. company with a subsidiary in New Zealand.

“Since we were going to follow on this journey with Rocket Lab and it was going to be heading towards launching once or twice a week, then as the launch state we would be taking on a lot of responsibility,” Crabtree, who leads the agency established in 2016, said Oct. 22 during a reception at the New Zealand embassy. “We needed to act as a responsible citizen of the world. We set ourselves the challenge of leading in that area.”

Under the Outer Space Treaty, launch states are responsible for registering spacecraft and they accept liability for any damages their spacecraft cause.

As part of its sustainability campaign, the space agency is working with LeoLabs, the Silicon Valley space mapping startup. LeoLabs created a cloud-based platform to help the space agency monitor satellites in low Earth orbit. LeoLabs also announced initial operation earlier this month of the Kiwi Space Radar, which is designed to track debris as small as two centimeters in low Earth orbit.

LeoLabs completed construction of its Kiwi Space Radar to track objects in low Earth orbit as small as two centimeters. The new radar is located in the Central Otago region of New Zealand’s south island. Credit: LeoLabs

“Locating the Kiwi Space Radar in New Zealand was a strategic decision for LeoLabs, and we are excited to become a full-fledged participant in this emerging space sector,” LeoLabs CEO Dan Ceperley said in a statement. “Our investment model is aligned with New Zealand’s vision of sustainable development and responsible stewardship of space.”

Now, New Zealand Space Agency leaders are beginning to hold discussions with other space agencies “to lay the foundation in terms of science and technology programs to start to participate in global space missions,” Crabtree said.

Through those conversations, agency leaders are beginning to think about national space missions, “the things we would do ourselves,” Crabtree said. “We will embrace the power of small and push the frontier of what you can do with small things in space,” he added.