The New Zealand Space Agency (NZSA) says it's continuing to build its capability as a regulator of space activity with a new pilot project which allows officials to see real-time information on the orbital position of satellites launched from New Zealand.
The NZSA, a 15-person team, housed within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), has partnered with US-based "space situational awareness experts" or space junk trackers LeoLabs to develop the bespoke tool, dubbed the Space Regulatory and Sustainability Platform, to track objects launched from New Zealand to ensure compliance with permit conditions.
"Lower Earth orbit is rapidly emerging as the focus of commercial space activity and is home to thousands of satellites travelling at extremely high speeds around the globe, providing us with services we rely on every day," says MBIE General Manager of Science, Innovation and International Dr Peter Crabtree, who leads the NZSA.
"It's also home to a growing population of debris, increasing the risk of collisions that could potentially create thousands of new particles of debris and damage expensive equipment. As a launching nation, we have a responsibility to minimise orbital debris and preserve space for future generations. Understanding where the objects that we launch are is the first step towards doing this."
The Platform provides independent, on-going monitoring of satellites and will be able to alert the NZSA when a satellite is outside of its regulatory limits and at risk of collision with other objects.
"By ensuring these objects stay within the expected risk profiles, we develop an understanding of an operator's compliance record and potential collision risk. We are also meeting our international obligations as a responsible launching state," says Dr Crabtree.
As the commercial use of space increases, regulators around the world are working on ways to manage the risks caused by debris. The development of this type of monitoring capability demonstrates best practice and leadership in the safe and sustainable use of space.
The three-year-old NZSA is also charged with growing the space industry in NZ, attracting new investment in the industry, and approving Rocket Lab payloads - although our Space Minister (better known as Minister of Economic Development David Parker) has final sign-off.