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Space Law and China  

Fabio Tronchetti

China has made remarkable achievements in the space sector and has become one of the most relevant players in the outer space domain. Highlights of this process have been the deployment in orbit of the first Chinese space station, Tiangong-1, on September 29, 2011, and the landing of the Yutu rover on the lunar surface on December 14, 2013. While technological developments have occurred at such a rapid pace, the same cannot be said of the regulatory framework governing Chinese space activities, which still lays at its infant stage. Indeed, unlike other major spacefaring countries, China lacks a comprehensive and uniform national space legislation; as of now, China has enacted two low-level administrative regulations addressing the issues of launching and registration of space objects. With the growth of the Chinese space program, such a lack of structured national space law is beginning to show its limits and to raise concerns about its negative impact on business opportunities and the ability of China to fully comply with international obligations. One should keep in mind that international space treaties (China is part to four international space law treaties) are not self-executing, thus requiring states to adopt domestic measures to ensure their effective implementation. Importantly, Chinese authorities appear to be aware of these issues; as stated by the Secretary-General of the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) in 2014, national space law has been listed in the national legislation plan, and the CNSA is directly engaged in such a process. However, questions remain as to how this drafting process will be conducted and what legal form and content the law will have. For example, China could either decide to proceed with a gradual approach, consisting in the adoption of laws addressing selected issues to be eventually assembled into one single law or to directly move to the adoption of one comprehensive law. In any case, if enacted, a Chinese national space law would represent an important step in the advancement of the Chinese space program and in the progress of international space law as such.


International Liability for Commercial Space Activities and Related Issues of Debris  

Elina Morozova and Alena Laurenava

Space activities are technically sophisticated and challenging endeavors involving high risk. Notwithstanding precautionary measures that are taken by commercial operators, damage may be caused during space objects’ launching, passing through air space, in-orbit maneuvering and operating, and de-orbiting. The rules and procedures aimed at ensuring the prompt payment of a full and equitable compensation for such damage constitute the international liability regime, which is of crucial importance in space law. The first reference to international liability for damage caused by space objects and their component parts on Earth, in air space, or in outer space can be traced back to the very beginning of the space era. In 1963, just a few years after the first ever artificial satellite was launched, international liability was declared by the United Nations General Assembly as one of the legal principles governing the activities of states in the exploration and use of outer space. It was later made legally binding by inclusion in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and received further development in the 1972 Liability Convention. The latter is generally referred to as lex specialis when the interrelation between the two international treaties is described and introduces several provisions that treat liability for damage caused in specific circumstances somewhat differently. International space law imputes liability on states that launch or procure launchings of space objects and states from whose territory or facility space objects are launched. This does not, however, exclude liability for damage caused by space objects that are operated by private entities. Still, international liability for accidents involving commercial operators stays with the so-called launching states, as this term is defined by the Liability Convention for the same states that are listed in the Outer Space Treaty as internationally liable. Insurance is well known to address damages and liability issues, including those arising from commercial launches; however, it is not always mandatory. Frequently, space-related accidents involve nonfunctional space objects and their component parts, which are usually referred to as “space debris.” This may include spent rocket stages and defunct satellites, as well as fragments from their disintegration. Since the nonfunctional state of a space object does not change its legal status, the relevant provisions of international space law that are applicable to space objects continue to apply to what is called space debris. This means, in particular, that launching states are internationally liable for damage caused by space debris, including cases where such debris was generated by private spacecraft. The probability of liability becomes even higher when it comes to active space debris removal. Such space activities, which are extensively developed by private companies, are inextricably linked to potential damage. Yet, practical problems arise with identification of space debris and, consequently, an efficient implementation of the liability regime.


Liability and Patent Protection for Space Activities in China  

Guoyu Wang and Xiao Ma

Space tort and patent protection are becoming more and more urgent legal issues, in light of rapidly developing space technology and commercialization of space activities. China’s space industry and activities have witnessed rapid progress recently, yet the development of China’s national space law system lags far behind China’s other achievements in space. Existing space laws in China have not expressly stipulated space tort and patent protection. Thus, addressing these issues has to resort to the relevant rules in other national laws or legal documents to recognize and confirm the doctrines of space tort liability, mitigation or exemption of liability, assignment and protection of space patents, etc. Therefore, the two main tasks or topics for the Chinese space law community are defining the applicability of the general rules and establishing a systematic national space law regime. The national space law regime will need to address the uncertainties, loopholes, and insufficiencies in the existing legal system regarding space tort and space patent protection. National tribunals, researchers, lawmakers, and policymakers will require references and guidance for dealing with space tort and patent protection. Meanwhile, international academia and practitioners need to better understand Chinese laws related to space activities, in order to facilitate international cooperation and the settlement of disputes.


International Space Law and Satellite Telecommunications  

Elina Morozova and Yaroslav Vasyanin

International space law is a branch of international law that regulates the conduct of space activities. Its core instruments include five space-specific international treaties, which were adopted under the auspices of the United Nations. The first and the underlying one—the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (Outer Space Treaty)—establishes that outer space is free for exploration and use by all states. Such fundamental freedom is exercised by a number of space applications that have become an integral part of modern human life and global economy. Among such applications, satellite telecommunications is the most widespread, essential, and advanced. Indeed, since 1957 when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite merely capable of continuous beeping during its 21-day trip around the globe, space technologies have progressed in leaps and bounds. Cutting-edge satellite telecommunications methods ensure instant delivery of huge amounts of data, relay of real-time voice and video, broadcasting of radio and television, and Internet access worldwide. By transmitting signals over any distance telecommunications satellites connect locations everywhere on Earth. A telecommunications satellite’s lifetime, starting from the launch and ending at de-orbiting, is governed by international space law. The latter considers satellites as “space objects” and regulates liability, registration, jurisdiction and control, debris mitigation, and touches upon ownership. Therefore, the first large group of international law rules applicable to satellite telecommunications includes provisions of three out of five UN space treaties, specifically, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, and the 1976 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space, as well as several UN General Assembly resolutions. To carry out a communication function, satellites need to be placed in a certain orbit and to use radio-frequency spectrum, both limited natural resources. Access to these highly demanded resources, which are not subject to national appropriation and require rational, efficient, and economical uses in an interference-free environment, is managed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)—the UN specialized agency for information and communication technologies. The ITU’s core regulatory documents are its Constitution, Convention, and the Radio Regulations, which collectively make up another group of international law rules relevant to satellite telecommunications. Both groups of international law rules constitute the international legal regime of satellite telecommunications and face the challenge of keeping pace with technology advancement and market evolution, as well as with a growing number of states and non-state actors carrying on space activities. These tangible changes need to be addressed in the regulatory framework that cannot but serve as a driver for further development of satellite telecommunications.


Austrian National Space Law  

Cordula Steinkogler

The Austrian Outer Space Act, which entered into force in December 2011, and the Austrian Outer Space Regulation, which has been in force since February 2015, form the legal framework for Austrian national space activities. The elaboration of this national space legislation became necessary when the first two Austrian satellites were developed, to ensure compliance with Austria’s obligations as State Party to the five United Nations space treaties. The legislation comprehensively regulates legal aspects related to space activities, including the authorization, supervision, and termination of space activities; the registration of space objects; insurance requirements; and possibilities for recourse of the government against the operator. One of the main purposes of the law is to ensure the authorization of national space activities. The Outer Space Act sets forth the conditions for authorization, which, inter alia, refer to the expertise of the operator, requirements for orbital positions and frequency assignments, space debris mitigation, insurance requirements, and the safeguard of public order, public health, and national security, as well as of Austrian foreign policy interests and international law obligations. The Austrian Outer Space Regulation complements these provisions by specifying the documents the operator must submit as evidence of the fulfillment of the authorization conditions, which include the results of safety tests, emergency plans, and information on the collection and use of Earth observation data. Particular importance is attached to the mitigation of space debris. Operators are required to take measures in accordance with international space debris mitigation guidelines for the avoidance of operational debris, the prevention of on-orbit breakups and collisions, and the removal of space objects from Earth orbit after the end of the mission. Another specificity of the Austrian space legislation is the possibility of an exemption from the insurance requirement or a reduction of the insurance sum if the space activity is in the public interest. This allows the support of space activities that serve science, research, and education. Moreover, the law also provides for the establishment of a national registry for objects launched into outer space by the competent Austrian ministry.


Space Law: Overview  

Francis Lyall

Space law is composed of disparate elements of ordinary national laws and general international law. It has been created by the agreement of states as to the international law that should govern important technical and technological developments of the later 20th and the 21st century. That agreement is expressed in five general treaties; other treaty-level measures including as to the use of radio, declarations of principle, recommendations on the conduct of space activities, and by state practice. The United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), serviced by the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), plays a significant role in the development of the many aspects of space law, as do intergovernmental and nongovernmental agreements together with informal arrangements between space-active bodies.