The Government wants to bolster its outer space programme and is cosying up to the multi-billion dollar Japanese space sector in a bid to strengthen the two country's "bilateral space engagement".
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe agreed to expand their outer space cooperation and strategy in September.
An August ministerial briefing – obtained under the Official Information Act (OIA) – reveals officials were working behind the scenes before Ardern's trip to strengthen New Zealand and Japan's "space partnership".
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Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford and Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods agreed before Ardern's trip to Japan that officials were to begin work on negotiating the partnership programme with the country's space agency.
The briefing said a space partnership between the two countries was "an area of potential".
"The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (as the New Zealand Space Agency) has recently applied to join the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Kibo-ABC outreach programme, creating opportunities for New Zealand students to compete in international space competitions," the briefing said.
It added that New Zealand researchers had proposed to use the exploration agency's technology on the International Space Station for "advanced research".
Japan's space sector is largely dominated by its government. The country's space industry as a whole is valued at just under US$3.3 billion (NZ$5.2b). JAXA and other Government entities make up two thirds of that.
JAXA's 2018 budget was US$1.7b.
Twyford told the Herald the Government wants to build a domestic space industry with the capability of developing innovative technologies and new opportunities for economic growth.
"More broadly, New Zealand's space industry is evolving rapidly.
"Technological advances have resulted in the growth of so-called New Space activities, characterised by entrepreneurially-driven, venture-capital funded space companies developing new products or services."
He said this creates an opportunity for New Zealand to become a hub for New Space activities.
"Japan is a world-leading space-faring nation and launching state. Our countries are currently in discussions about closer cooperation on space science and regulatory issues."
The briefing said New Zealand's bilateral space engagement with Japan had been growing steadily and there was scope for further development.
Officials suggested when Ardern met Abe, "space cooperation" should be added to their meeting agenda.
"Prime Minister Ardern could raise New Zealand's interests in negotiating a space partnership arrangement with Japan during her meeting with Prime Minister Abe," the briefing said.
And, according to the New Zealand-Japan Summit Joint statement, that's exactly what Ardern did.
"They [Ardern and Abe] expressed a desire to expand space cooperation between the two countries. For this purpose, they encouraged discussions on a possible partnership arrangement on bilateral space cooperation."
This week, Woods announced New Zealand will get its own space mission control centre, as the Government puts $26 million behind a climate-change-combating satellite.
The Government will be contributing to a joint mission with the United States' Environmental Defence Fund (EDF) to launch a state-of-the-art, methane-tracking satellite.
"It will enable us to grow our capabilities in the space sector and participate in future space missions," Woods said.