Aircraft and rockets are fine

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READY: Rocket Lab's site was opened this week in Mahia. PHOTO SUPPLIED
READY: Rocket Lab's site was opened this week in Mahia. PHOTO SUPPLIED

In terms of creating a site which effectively steers clear of other moving objects in the sky, namely domestic aircraft, the Mahia site for Rocket Lab's ventures into space is well sited.

It is effectively off the beaten track - the perfect spot for the launching of Electron rockets.

Our skies and airspace consists of two areas - the New Zealand Flight Information Region which is New Zealand's domestic airspace and the Auckland Oceanic Flight Information Region which is the airspace over the high seas that New Zealand manages under an ICAO Regional Air Navigation Agreement.

Under civil aviation legislation the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) does not have the ability to license or regulate the activities of Rocket Lab as what they are set to send skywards are not designated as aircraft.

Rather, Rocket Lab is licensed by the US-based Federal Aviation Administration and have had to meet their specific "into space" requirements.

That included New Zealand becoming signatories to several space treaties, which has been handled by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

However, the CAA does have its own rocket regulations, although the rockets listed on the CAA's airspace hazards roster are nowhere near the size of the Electrons which will wow the spectators who will gather to watch them head for space.

Some do, however, have the capability to go high, and fast, although with the Model Rocket Safety Code determining that metal can not be used for the bodies, nose cones or fins, and that they must not weigh more than 1.5kg, they are not exactly designed to hit the high heights.

As well as small rockets, other devices on the airspace hazards register are model aircraft and unmanned aerial systems, drones, free balloons 1.5m in diameter or larger, tethered kites, parasails and gyrogliders, pyrotechnics, searchlights and lasers and efflux from structures - exhaust plumes in excess of 4.3m a second.

Anything that enters the skies which has the potential to affect aircraft needs to be authorised by the CAA, and anyone putting anything into the skies where it could have the potential to meet an aircraft needs to be fully aware of the extensive rules.

A CAA spokesperson said Rocket Lab had followed all the normal processes for operating within the New Zealand Flight Information Region (FIR) as well as the Auckland Oceanic Flight Information Region.

"For operation within controlled airspace, prior authorisation is required from the air traffic control unit responsible for the airspace," the spokesperson said.

"Rocket Lab has arranged the authorisation with Airways Corporation of New Zealand, the Part 172 certificated organisation providing air traffic services within the FIRs.

"Temporary special use airspace has been designated by the director of Civil Aviation to protect other airspace users from the rocket launch activity."

With Mahia's location well away from most airway routes any negative effects would be minimal and no current airspace safety and hazards regulation had been altered to cater for commercial rocket launching.

In terms of Rocket Lab being required to advise the CAA of launch timing, the only time periods applicable is the requirement to apply for "special use airspace" at least 90 days prior to the effective date and giving at least 24 hours notice prior to the launch.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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