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International Geopolitics and Space Regulation  

Gianfranco Gabriele Nucera

Outer space has always assumed a relevant geopolitical value due to strategic and economic reasons. Since the beginning of the so-called space age, national space policies have pursued both political and economic objectives, taking into account fundamental security and military considerations. After the Second World War, the international relations were based on the dichotomy between the United States and the Soviet Union. The foundation of activities in outer space finds its roots in the Cold War and reproduces the distinctive geopolitical dynamics of that historical moment. The diverging interests between the two states were reflected in the political tensions that characterized the competition to reach outer space. The classical geopolitics deals with how states should act in outer space to increase their influence in the international arena. According to the theories developed during the space race, whoever controls outer space controls the world. In this sense, security on Earth depends on the security in space, ensured by national control over the strategic assets. Space applications had indeed a central role in the context of deterrence. In addition, conducting activities in outer space represented an important tool of foreign policy and for the enhancement of international cooperation, mainly within the blocs. International geopolitical dynamics were reflected on space regulations developed during the Cold War era. The 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space (OST) is the main legal instrument, which codifies the general principles in international law of space activities. Over the past few decades, space activities have changed due to the growing participation of non-state actors to the so-called space economy. The end of the Cold War era produced a structural change of the international relations in the space sector. The traditional scheme of cooperation within the Western, or Eastern, bloc was overcome by a stronger multilateral cooperation, such in the case of the International Space Station. Furthermore, the end of the Cold War busted the regionalization of space cooperation. Furthermore, space activities are relevant for the well-being of humankind. Many services provided by public and private companies, such as satellite broadcasting, weather forecasts, or satellite navigation, have a strong socioeconomic impact. In addition, the protection of the environment in outer space has become a central theme in the international debate, with a focus on mitigation and removal of space debris. These issues are reflected in increasing legislation, adopted to regulate space activities on a national level. This evolution, along with technological changes, poses political challenges to the actors involved in the space arena and creates a competitive geopolitical situation in which states aim at protecting their national interests in outer space. In this context, the international space governance plays a fundamental role in bringing together national interests toward a collective interest in protecting and promoting space activities for the benefit of humankind and with due regard to the corresponding interests of all states.

Article

Human-Robotic Cooperative Space Exploration  

Anne-Sophie Martin

Since the beginning of space exploration, outer space has fascinated, captivated and intrigued people’s mind. The launch of the first artificial satellite—Sputnik—in 1957 by the Soviet Union, and the first man on the Moon in 1969 represent two significant missions in the space exploration history. In 1972, Apollo 17 marked the last human program on the lunar surface. Nevertheless, several robotic spacecrafts traveled to the Moon such as the Soviet Luna 24 in 1976 or more recently China’s Chang’e 4 in 2019 which touched down on its far side, the first time for a space vehicle. The international space community is currently assessing a return to the Moon in 2024 and even beyond in the coming decades, toward the Red Planet, Mars. Robots and rovers, for instance, Curiosity, Philae, Rosetta or Perseverance, will continue to play a major role in space exploration by paving the way for future long-duration missions on celestial bodies. Landing humans on the Moon, Mars, or on other celestial bodies, needs robotics because there are significant challenges to overcome from technological and physiological perspectives. Therefore, the support of machines and artificial intelligence is essential for developing future deep space programs as well as to reach a sustainable space exploration. One can imagine future circumstances where robots and humans are collaborating together on the Moon’s surface or on celestial bodies to undertake scientific research, to extract and to analyze space resources for a possible in situ utilization, as well as to build sites for human habitation and work. Indeed, different situations can be considered: (a) a robot, located on a celestial body, operated by a human on Earth or aboard a space station; (b) the in situ operation of a robot by an astronaut; (c) the interaction between a robot in outer space, manipulated from Earth and an astronaut; (d) the interaction between a robot operated from space and an astronaut; (e) the interaction between a robot with an artificial intelligence component and an astronaut; (f) the interaction between two robots in the case of on-orbit servicing. The principles of free exploration and cooperation are two core concepts in the international space legal framework. Hence, it is necessary to analyse the provisions on the five United Nations space treaties in the context of “human-robotic” cooperation. In addition, the development of a Code of Conduct for space exploration, involving humans and robots, might be needed in order to clearly identify the missions using robotic systems (e.g., mission’s purpose, area of operations) and to foresee scenarios of responsibility and liability in case of damage. Lastly, a review of the dispute settlement mechanisms is particularly relevant as international claims related to human–robot activities will inevitably occur given the fact that their collaboration will increase as more missions are being planned on celestial bodies.

Article

Space Law Education and Capacity-Building  

David Kuan-Wei Chen

Space activities can bring tremendous benefits to global development and humanity. For the safety, security, and long-term sustainability of outer space, activities and developments in the exploration and use of outer space must therefore be guided by the effective formulation, implementation, and enforcement of law and governance. Concerted and quality space law education and capacity-building efforts are necessary for the cultivation of competent professionals, scholars, and next-generation experts who are cognizant of the emerging issues and challenges posed by the proliferation of space activities and actors in the global commons of outer space. In order to fully grasp space law, it is important to possess a basic understanding of space technology, space applications, and the space environment in which the exploration and use of outer space take place. Not only should space law professionals and scholars be trained in law and have a deep understanding of especially public international law, but the approach to space law education and capacity-building must also be uniquely holistic and interdisciplinary. Hence, education and capacity-building can stimulate international development and cooperation in space activities and contribute to building expertise and capacity in countries with emerging space capabilities.