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‘No military payloads’

Protesters demand halt to Rocket Lab’s military-related launches from Mahia.

People wanting to stop Rocket Lab from launching military-related payloads from its Mahia complex protested at the Auckland headquarters of the space company this week.

About 30 people were at the “Stop Militarisation” event.

Many were from Mahia where the Rocket Lab launch complex is located, while others were from Auckland Peace Action and the Green Party.

Auckland Peace Action and peace veterans from the Nuclear Free movement organised the event.

They are demanding a halt to Rocket Lab's launches of surveillance and military satellites from New Zealand and protesting against what they see as its involvement in “the militarisation of Space.”

A similar gathering was held simultaneously in Nelson.

Kaumatua Syd Keepa opened the Auckland protest and spoke about Matariki and the importance of preventing space junk and pollution of the night sky.

Mahia kuia Pauline Tangiora and wahine of Rongomaiwahine were among those at the protest.

“Your children will be affected by what you are doing today,” Mrs Tangiora said.

She raised the issue of violation of the Pacific Ocean through military activities and said there was a need for more young people to get involved in peace work.

The Green Party's security and intelligence spokesperson Teanau Tuiono launched a private member's bill which would amend the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act and prohibit the launching of military hardware into space from New Zealand.

“This change would ensure Aotearoa New Zealand's space industry and its facilities could never be used by military actors to launch weaponry, establishing in legislation an enduring commitment to peaceful conduct in outer space”, he said.

“The Government has a responsibility to make sure technologies sent into orbit from New Zealand soil do not assist other countries' armies to wage war.

“Unfortunately, our outer space legislation has so many gaps and grey areas that foreign military powers are literally launching rockets through it.

“The Outer Space and High-Altitude Activities Act allows the minister to veto a satellite if it is not in the national interest. However, launches from Mahia have carried at least 13 payloads for US military or intelligence agencies.

“They range from US Special Operations Command, which conducts covert operations around the world, to the launch of Gunsmoke-J in March this year on behalf of the US Army's Space and Missile Defense Command, which was designed to improve US missile targeting capabilities during combat.

“We are also very conscious of the impact successive rocket launches have on the whenua (land) and moana (ocean) of Mahia.

“When we visited Mahia the whanau told us about the absence of local birds and kaimoana (seafood) and we continue to support the call from whanau for independent cultural and environmental impact assessments.

New Zealand human rights and peace activist Maire Leadbeater said Rocket Lab's military-linked launches jeopardised the country's nuclear-free status.

“The more we learn about what Rocket Lab are doing, it is clearer and clearer that Rocket Lab is effectively a base, a US base, with the ownership not in New Zealand,” she said.

“Rocket Lab has no clear accountability to us. We call upon the New Zealand Government to explain to us how they approved payloads going into space like the launch of Gunsmoke-J, which is about improving the targeting of weapons, including potentially nuclear weapons.”

Former Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control Matt Robson spoke about the need for New Zealand to determine its own foreign policy.

He reiterated concerns a private company was using New Zealand in the interests of the US military and being paid to launch rockets for their military and surveillance satellites without proper oversight.

Eliana Darroch, of Auckland Peace Action, said it was wrong Rocket Lab was putting Mahia on the map as a military target by using that wahi (location) as a military launch pad.

“These satellites are not just the militarisation of Space but they have real world consequences in their use on Earth. With precision targeting technology, they would be used to bomb and target people in conflict overseas.

“By allowing these launches from New Zealand we are complicit in the US military's potential future wars.”

A Rocket Lab spokesperson said the company acknowledged and respected the rights of people to share their views and have their voices heard but reinterated it “does not and will not” launch weapons or payloads that contributed to weapons programmes or nuclear capabilities.

“We agree that New Zealand's space activity should be safe, sustainable and for the benefit of humanity,” the spokesperson said.

“Further to our own commitment, New Zealand law governs all satellites launched from New Zealand. This law is very strict about what can and cannot be launched.

“Every single satellite payload must be permitted under this law by the New Zealand Space Agency, associated agencies, and the responsible Minister.

“It is not permissible to launch weapons, nuclear or conventional, under this legislation.

“The Government will not approve payloads that do any of the following things — contribute to nuclear weapons programmes or capabilities; harm, interfere with or destroy other spacecraft or systems on Earth; support or enable defence, security or intelligence operations that are contrary to government policy, and are likely to cause serious or irreversible harm to the environment.

“All payloads must be consistent with New Zealand's obligations in relation to The United Nations Charter, International Humanitarian Law, International Human Rights Law and international obligations and commitments relating to the use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.”

The spokesperson said New Zealanders relied on defence satellite technology every day, including Google Maps, which is powered by a satellite system owned and operated by the US Air Force.

“The small satellites we launch are making a big difference to how we understand our planet and manage our impact on it, and they're also enabling us to explore the solar system faster and cheaper than ever before.

“The satellites we launch are providing insights on climate change, helping emergency services respond quickly to disasters, keeping ships and planes safe on their journeys across the world, providing internet from space to remote places, and enabling scientists and engineers to explore and innovate.”

Rocket Lab protest: Protesters at the Stop Militarisation event in Auckland make their feelings known about Rocket Lab sending military-linked payloads into space. From left are an unknown Auckland student, Green MP Teanau Tuiono, Mahia kuia Pauline Tangiora, kaumatua Syd Keepa and Mahia locals Lisa Battes and Puti Moa. Picture by Jos Wheeler