Space law: Uni’s fi­nal fron­tier

Some stu­dents thought they’d learn about Star Wars – but in­stead their lessons are boldly go­ing where no lessons have gone be­fore. By Ger­ald Pid­dock.

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS -

The fi­nal fron­tier of law has ar­rived in the form of a Waikato Univer­sity class in space law.

The six-week class is part of the univer­sity’s sum­mer school pro­gramme, aimed at pro­vid­ing stu­dents with an un­der­stand­ing of is­sues such as manned space­flight, space sta­tion op­er­a­tions, space tourism, space trans­porta­tion, satellite com­mu­ni­ca­tions, in­ter­na­tional trade in space ser­vices and dis­pute res­o­lu­tion re­gard­ing space ac­tiv­i­ties.

Se­nior lec­turer Anna Marie Bren­nan said it had gen­er­ated a lot of in­ter­est – 27 stu­dents en­rolled.

‘‘Stu­dents did think ini­tially that they would be study­ing aliens and Darth Vader and Star Wars is­sues. We do kind of touch on those par­tic­u­lar top­ics be­cause we do look at mil­i­tary uses in outer space and the weapon­i­sa­tion of satel­lites and what­not.’’

Bren­nan has plans to es­tab­lish a year-long post-grad­u­ate de­gree in space law, which would make Waikato Univer­sity only the sec­ond univer­sity in the world to of­fer that qual­i­fi­ca­tion, af­ter an­other in the Nether­lands.

The pa­per’s aim is to re­spond to New Zealand’s bur­geon­ing space in­dus­try, she said.

‘‘Space law as an area is rapidly de­vel­op­ing and Waikato Univer­sity fore­sees this as a po­ten­tially grow­ing area and that the in­dus­try needs lawyers that can prac­tice in this area.’’

New Zealand had been slow to recog­nise the need for this type of study but was catch­ing up, largely thanks to the growth of com­pa­nies such as US com­pany Rocket Lab, she said.

‘‘They fore­see that New Zealand will be launch­ing more rock­ets into space in the fu­ture than the United States and there is a very im­por­tant op­por­tu­nity here for New Zealand to de­velop a tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced, savvy space in­dus­try that would have a knock-on ef­fect for the econ­omy.’’

Rocket Lab chief ex­ec­u­tive, New Zealan­der Peter Beck, said the global space econ­omy was evolv­ing rapidly.

‘‘New Zealand can play an im­por­tant role in this growth. It’s great to see more op­por­tu­ni­ties like this for young Ki­wis to en­ter the space econ­omy. As the small launch in­dus­try grows, and thou­sands more satel­lites need to reach or­bit, we will likely see a nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion of this process to en­able fast and fre­quent launches.’’

Rocket Lab’s next launch win­dow is to­day at 4pm.

An MBIE spokesman said New Zealand’s emerg­ing space in­dus­try meant it was im­por­tant its le­gal obli­ga­tions were un­der­stood.

‘‘It is great to see in­ter­est from uni­ver­si­ties and other ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions in mak­ing space law ac­ces­si­ble to New Zealan­ders.’’


Waikato Univer­sity se­nior lec­turer Anna Marie Bren­nan is teach­ing New Zealand’s first ever class in space law.

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