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More than just gazing at stars

There’s nothing quite like stargazing.

Staring into the unfathomable depths of the night sky for minutes, hours on end, you can feel your narcissism shrinking proportionally.

It’s a great feeling and at times, a much-needed reset.

In Wairarapa, we are blessed with an endless night sky and a Dark Sky Association that seeks to preserve it.

So, bearing this in mind, it was with great interest that I read about the current policies out for public consultation.

This month, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment [MBIE] launched a consultation on the future of aerospace in New Zealand, requesting feedback on an Aerospace Strategy and Space Policy Review.

The Aerospace Strategy consultation document describes the aerospace sector as dynamic, combining space and advanced aviation activities, and says the strategy will focus on innovation and economic development.

The goal, it seems, is to develop a globally competitive aerospace economy.

And it is big business.

Globally the aerospace sector is worth over $600 billion – a figure that appears to be increasing exponentially.

It says the foundation of New Zealand’s sector is currently a highly skilled workforce and a well-connected research system – however, “clear direction” is needed to “unlock its true potential”.

Space policy as it stands is also out for consultation, and it’s interesting to think that without Rocket Lab’s launch on the Mahia Peninsula in 2016 we might not have it.

It was certainly the catalyst for the creation of the New Zealand Space Agency, which develops such policies as the Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Act 2017.

And with the window on submissions closing, MBIE and experts are urging anyone with an interest to participate.

Massey University’s School of Aviation senior lecturer Dr Maria Pozza highlights the bedrock of New Zealand’s space strategy in commercialisation and delicate balance with national security.

She says it’s a chance for the nation to “bolsters its drive towards sustainability” and ensure we don’t contribute to the “significant” space debris issue.

Auckland University Department of Physics professor Richard Esther said it was a big development for New Zealand, with space becoming increasingly important in science, economic and tech sectors globally.

“New Zealand is in a remarkable position as we are one of a handful of countries that can launch satellites into orbit … independently of explicitly military programmes.”

The result, he says, is that space policy is crucial for us.

He cites the policy review as our chance to let “our values” shape future space policy.

“This ranges from the military use of space through to the impact of big “constellations” like Starlink, which could lead to the night sky containing numerous fast moving artificial stars.”

He says there are numerous deep questions to consider, and warns many organisations that might not think of space as “something they need to worry about” will want to weigh in.

So, if you were unaware, or aware but apathetic, let that serve as your warning.

Wairarapa’s skies are not a static, foregone conclusion, and if you want to help shape their future now is your chance; just jump online at MBIE.

Submissions close for the Aerospace Strategy on October 12, and the Space Policy Review on October 31.

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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