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Militarisation of Mahia

Opinion Piece

Re: Perfect flight for Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, March 30 story.

So, Rocket Lab has militarised Mahia, and in the process made our country and our region a legitimate target in global geopolitics.

Just how does the DARPA payload sent by Rocket Lab sit with New Zealand’s stated commitment to the peaceful use of outer space?

According to Rocket Lab’s press kit for the launch, DARPA “is a US Government organisation and an innovation icon”. It has created “breakthrough technologies that have had sweeping societal and economic impacts”, such as portable GPS, voice-recognition software and the precursor to the internet.

This is all true. But DARPA’s breakthroughs also include military drones, stealth aircraft and laser weapons, as well as the scheme to bombard Vietnam with toxic chemical defoliants such as Agent Orange. The societal impacts in that case included mass deforestation and the deaths of around 400,000 Vietnamese.

DARPA is a military agency. The civilian benefits of its work are happy side-effects of its primary purpose: “To maintain and advance the capabilities and technical superiority of the United States military.”

The same goes for last week’s launch from the newest US military base: Mahia.

The Ministerial briefing for the launch — provided to The Spin Off under the Official Information Act — states the purpose: “For the [US Department of Defense] to test its ability to rapidly develop and launch a spacecraft.”

Space infrastructure is critical to military operations on the ground, but the US military considers this infrastructure vulnerable in an increasingly contested space environment. In response, the military want more rapid launch capabilities so that space assets can be swiftly replaced during conflict.

Last week, Rocket Lab showed the US military that it can provide this capability for them.

Like all launches from New Zealand, the R3D2 was approved by the Minister for Economic Development, David Parker, on the advice of the New Zealand Space Agency, which sits within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). The officials’ advice in this case was that “this payload does not trigger any national interest concerns”.

It is time for New Zealand, and Tairawhiti, to ask a similar question.

Manu Caddie