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Registration of Space Objects  

Bernhard Schmidt-Tedd and Alexander Soucek

Space objects are subject to registration in order to allocate “jurisdiction and control” over those objects in the sovereign-free environment of outer space. This approach is similar to the registration of ships on the high seas and for aircraft in international airspace. Registration is one of the basic principles of space law, starting with the first space-related UN General Assembly (GA) Resolution 1721 B (XVI) of December 20, 1961, followed by UN GA Resolution 1962 (XVIII) of December 1963 then formulated in Article VIII of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, and later specified in the Registration Convention of 1975. Registration of space objects has arguably grown into a principle of customary international law, relevant for each spacefaring state. Registration occurs at the national and international level in a two-step process. To enter and object into the UN Register of Space Objects, the state establishes a national registry for its space objects and notifies the UN Secretary General of all registered objects. The UN Register is handled by the UN Office for Outer Space Affaires (UNOOSA), which has created a searchable database as an open source of information for space objects worldwide. Registration is linked to the so-called launching state of the relevant space object. There may be more than one launching state for the specific launch event, but only one state can register a specific space object. The state of registry has jurisdiction and control over the space object and therefore no double-registration is admissible. Registration practice has evolved in response to technical developments and legal challenges. After the privatization of major international satellite organizations, a number of nonregistrations had to be addressed. The result was the UN GA Registration Practice Resolution of 2007 as elaborated by the legal subcommittee of the UN Committee for the Peaceful Use of Outer Space. The complexity of space activities and concepts such as megaconstellations present new challenges for the registration system. For example, the Registration Practice Resolution recommends that in cases of joint launches each space object should be registered separately. Registration of space objects is a legal instrument relevant for state responsibility and liability, but it is not an adequate instrument for space traffic management. The orbit-related information of the registration system is useful for identification purposes but not for real-time positioning information. Orbital data to allow positioning, tracking, and collision warnings need to respond to various requirements of accuracy.


Registration Convention  

Anja Nakarada Pečujlić

The adoption and entering into force of the 1975 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (also known as the Registration Convention) was another achievement in expanding and strengthening the corpus iuris spatialis. It was the fourth treaty negotiated by the member states of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS) and it represents a lex specialis to the Outer Space Treaty (OST), elaborating further Articles V, VIII, and XI of the OST. Article V OST deals with safe and prompt return of astronauts in case of distress or emergency landing to the state of registry of their space vehicle, which is then further defined in the Registration Convention. Article VIII OST only implied registration and provided for the consequences thereof, namely in respect of exercising jurisdiction and control over a registered space object. However, the Registration Convention specified the ensuing obligations and regulated the necessary practical steps of space objects registration. The Registration Convention also complements and strengthens Article XI OST, which stipulates an obligation of state parties to inform the secretary-general of the nature, conduct, locations, and results of their space activities in order to promote international cooperation. The prevailing purposes of the Registration Convention is the clarification of “jurisdiction and control” as a comprehensive concept mentioned in Article VIII OST. In addition to its overriding objective, the Registration Convention also contributes to the promotion and the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes. Establishing and maintaining a public register reduces the possibility of the existence of unidentified space objects and thereby lowers the risk of putting, for example, weapons of mass destruction secretly into orbit. Notwithstanding these important objectives, the negotiation history of the Convention and its lower number of ratification compared to the previous three space treaties testify to the numerous challenges that surround registration. The mandatory marking of space objects was one of the most heated points of debate between member states during the drafting of the Convention in the 1970s. Member states had conflicting views, depending on whether they were launching states or potential victims of launch failures. Additionally, questions on whether there should be one central or several registers and whether the type of information to be registered should be obligatory or optional were also pivotal in the discussion. It took five years of negotiation for member states to reach compromises and to adopt the Registration Convention, containing 12 articles. The articles covered issues ranging from registration procedure and different registries to amendments and withdrawal from the Convention. In addition, the following novelties were introduced: a new definition on “state of registry” was included; the “Moscow formula” was abandoned as the depositary was moved to the UN; and the “in five years review” clause found in Article X signified that the drafters were anticipating that technological developments could have such an impact on the Convention’s provisions that shorter time span between reviews were required than in previous space treaties. Despite the Convention’s novelties and its objective to protect the attribution of jurisdiction and control on the basis of a registry, as well as to ensure the rights provided in the Liability Convention and the Rescue and Return Agreement by offering means to identify space objects, the articles dealing with joint launch registration and registration by Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs) are seen as weakening jurisdiction and control concept. Due to the fact that jurisdiction and control stay only with the state of registry, the other launching states may only conclude appropriate agreements to retain any of these rights. Thus, international responsibility and liability remain with all the launching states, but jurisdiction and control only with the state of registry. Furthermore, in the case of an IGO, the IGO does not have the sovereign authority to exercise jurisdiction and control, thereby raising the question who could do so instead of or on behalf of an IGO. In this regard, the Convention leaves important areas unregulated. In the following years, there were proposals to expand the Registration Convention to encompass other subject matters such as financial interests of assets in outer space; however, up until today, these issues remain regulated only by the UNIDROIT Space Assets Protocol.


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.