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We have lift-off: Space Activities Amendment (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 passed by Parliament

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This article was written by Annabel Griffin, Patrick Mackenzie, Henry Sit and Andreas Sherborne

The next generation of domestic space regulation in Australia has blasted off with the enactment of the Space Activities Amendment (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 ("the Act"). The Act was passed without amendment to the version initially introduced to the House of Representatives in May 2018 (see our previous article – Eclipsing the Legal Black Hole: Government proposed changes in space law).

The key features of the new Act include:

  • lowering minimum insurance requirements for launches from AUD$750 million to a maximum of A$100 million, and widening the scope of insurance exemptions;
  • increasing penalties for non-compliance (breaches can attract penalties of AUD$21 million);
  • introducing the concept of a debris mitigation strategy as a condition of obtaining authorisations; and
  • expanding the concept of "space objects" and introducing the concept of "high power rockets".

Many of the permits and approvals issued under the Space Activities Act 1998 have been grandfathered, providing comfort to existing holders of valid space authorisations. For example, "space licences", "launch permits" and "overseas launch certificates" will continue to have effect under the new Act as "launch facility licences", "Australian launch permits", and "overseas payload permits" respectively.

A majority of the operational provisions of the Act will come under the accompanying rules to the Act ("the Rules").  These include provisions relating to the form of a required debris mitigation strategy, the definition of "high power rocket", and further financial/insurance requirements for space authorisations.  By placing these provisions in the Rules, the Government has ensured that the regulatory framework of Australia will be able to adapt more quickly to the evolving needs of the domestic space industry, and keep the Australian industry internationally competitive.

The Rules, which have not yet been made by the Minister, are expected to be released next year.  It remains unclear, however, whether there will be further opportunities for public submissions in relation to the formulation of the Rules.

If you would like to discuss how the new Act might affect you, please get in touch.

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