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Article

P.J. Blount

The use and exploration of space by humans is historically implicated with international and national security. Space exploration itself was sparked, in part, by the race to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), and the strategic uses of space enable the global projection of force by major military powers. The recognition of space as a strategic domain spurred states to develop the initial laws and policies that govern space activities to reduce the likelihood of conflict. Space security, therefore, is a foundational concept to space law. Since the beginning of the Space Age, the concept of security has morphed into a multivariate term, and contemporary space security concerns more than just securing states from the dangers of ICBMs. The prevalence of space technologies across society means that security issues connected to the space domain touch on a range of legal regimes. Specifically, space security law involves components of international peace and security, national security, human security, and the security of the space environment itself.

Article

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.

Article

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

Martha Mejía-Kaiser

International space law is a branch of public international law. Norms of treaty law and customary law provide a foundation for the behavior of the subjects of international law performing space activities. Five multilateral space treaties are in effect, which are complemented by important recommendations of international organizations such as United Nations (UN) General Assembly Resolutions and International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Regulations. The Inter-Agency Space Debris Mitigation Coordination Committee (IADC), a non-governmental body composed of several space agencies (for instance, the European Space Agency, the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, the Russian Federal Space Agency), issued its Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines in 2002. The IADC defines “space debris” as “all man-made space objects including fragments and elements thereof, in Earth orbit or re-entering the atmosphere, that are non-functional” (IADC, 2002, Revision 1, 2007, 3.1. Space Debris). Although the term “space debris” was not included in any space treaty, the drafters of the space treaties considered space objects as “hazardous” because “component parts of a space object as well as its launch vehicles and parts thereof” detach in course of normal launching operations, because space objects can fragment during an attempted launch, and because space objects that re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and survive friction have the potential to cause damage. In addition, radioactive and chemical substances on board space objects may represent a hazard to populations and the environment on the Earth. Besides the threats to aircraft in flight and to persons and property on the surface of the Earth, space debris in orbit is increasing alarmingly and poses a threat to manned space missions and non-manned space objects. While the Convention on International Liability for Damages Caused by Space Objects (Liability Convention, 1972) considers the threats of space objects during launch, in outer space, and when entering the Earth’s atmosphere, there have been efforts to minimize the generation of space debris in orbit, outside the framework of the space treaties. The IADC Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines are a comprehensive list of recommendations to launching states, owners, and operators of space objects. They are increasingly recognized by states through the creation of codes of conduct, national legislation, recommendations of international organizations, and state practice. Furthermore, non-governmental institutions, like the International Organization for Standardization, are providing more detailed technical instructions for the implementation of the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines, which are a breakthrough for the application of the guidelines by states of different economic and technical standing. Even though states are reluctant to accept new obligations through treaties, recommendations and state practice are becoming powerful instruments to avert the dangers of hazardous space debris that may create damage on the Earth or in orbit. Space debris also is becoming one of the drivers for the initiatives of the United Nations on the long-term sustainability of outer space activities to promote the existing mitigation guidelines and to formulate new guidelines for clearing outer space of debris.

Article

Christopher Daniel Johnson

Negotiated at the United Nations and in force since 1967, the Outer Space Treaty has been ratified by over 100 countries and is the most important and foundational source of space law. The treaty, whose full title is “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies,” governs all of humankind’s activities in outer space, including activities on other celestial bodies and many activities on Earth related to outer space. All space exploration and human spaceflight, planetary sciences, and commercial uses of space—such as the global telecommunications industry and the use of space technologies such as position, navigation, and timing (PNT), take place against the backdrop of the general regulatory framework established in the Outer Space Treaty. A treaty is an international legal instrument which balances rights and obligations between states, and exists as a kind of mutual contract of shared understandings, rights, and responsibilities between them. Negotiated and drafted during the Cold War era of heightened political tensions, the Outer Space Treaty is largely the product of efforts by the United States and the USSR to agree on certain minimum standards and obligations to govern their competition in “conquering” space. Additionally, the Outer Space Treaty is similar to other treaties, including treaties governing the high seas, international airspace, and the Antarctic, all of which govern the behavior of states outside of their national borders. The treaty is brief in nature and only contains 17 articles, and is not comprehensive in addressing and regulating every possible scenario. The negotiating states knew that the Outer Space Treaty could only establish certain foundational concepts such as freedom of access, state responsibility and liability, non-weaponization of space, the treatment of astronauts in distress, and the prohibition of non-appropriation of celestial bodies. Subsequent treaties were to refine these concepts, and national space legislation was to incorporate the treaty’s rights and obligations at the national level. While the treaty is the cornerstone in the regulation of activities in outer space, today the emergence of new issues that were not contemplated at the time of its creation, such as small satellites and megaconstellations, satellite servicing missions, the problem of space debris and the possibility of space debris removal, and the use of lunar and asteroid resources, all stretch the coherence and continuing adequacy of the treaty, and may occasion the need for new governance frameworks.

Article

Throughout the history of human activity in outer space, the role of private companies has steadily grown, and, in some cases, companies have even replaced government agencies as the primary actors in space. As private space activity has grown and diversified, the laws and regulations that govern private actors have been forced to evolve in reaction to the new realities of the industry. On the international level, the treaties concluded in the 1960s and 1970s continue to be in force today. However, these treaties only govern state activity in space. The rules regulating private industry are necessarily domestic in nature, and it is in these domestic laws that the evolution of space law can be most clearly seen. That said, new industries, such as asteroid mining, are testing the limits of international law and have forced the international community to examine whether changes to long-standing laws are needed.

Article

Shortly after the launch of the first manmade satellite in 1957, the United Nations (UN) took the lead in formulating international rules governing space activities. The five international conventions (the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the 1968 Rescue Agreement, the 1972 Liability Convention, the 1975 Registration Convention, and the 1979 Moon Agreement) within the UN framework constitute the nucleus of space law, which laid a solid legal foundation securing the smooth development of space activities in the next few decades. Outer space was soon found to be a place with abundant opportunities for commercialization. Telecommunications services proved to be the first successful space commercial application, to be followed by remote sensing and global navigation services. In the last decade, the rapid development of space technologies has brought space tourism and space mining to the forefront of space commercialization. With more and more commercial activities taking place on a daily basis from the 1980s, the existing space law faces severe challenges. The five conventions, enacted in a time when space was monopolized by two superpowers, failed to take into account the commercial aspect of space activities. While there is an urgent need for new rules to deal with the ongoing trend of space commercialization, international society faces difficulties in adopting new rules due to diversified concerns over national interests and adjusts the legislative strategies by enacting soft laws. In view of the difficulty in adopting legally binding rules at the international level, states are encouraged to enact their own national space legislation providing sufficient guidance for their domestic space commercial activities. In the foreseeable future, it is expected that the development of soft laws and national space legislation will be the mainstream regulatory activities in the space field, especially for commercial space activities.

Article

Frans von der Dunk

International satellite law can best be described as that subset of international space law that addresses the operations of satellites in orbit around the Earth. Excluding, therefore, topics such as manned space flight, suborbital space operations, and any activities beyond Earth orbits, this means addressing the use of satellites for telecommunications purposes, for Earth observation and remote sensing, and for positioning, timing, and navigation. These three major sectors of space activities are, in addition to jointly being subject to the body of international space law, each subject to their specific dedicated legal regime—international satellite communications law, international satellite remote sensing law, and international satellite navigation law.

Article

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.

Article

The great rise and diversification of the use of outer space raises the question of the limitations to space activities. The ultimate restriction posed by space law is the use of outer space “for peaceful purposes.” Regardless of the semantic approach one adopts with respect to the definition of the term “peaceful purposes” in the text of the Outer Space Treaty, it is the underlying substantive legal normativity which constitutes the determining factor. The applicable international legal rules confirm that the ultimate limit is the prohibition of the use of force laid down in Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter, which applies to outer space along with the exceptions stipulated in the UN Charter and general international law. In addition, the Outer Space Treaty establishes a particular legal regime on celestial bodies, declaring them a demilitarized zone, and bans the stationing of weapons of mass destruction in outer space. Space law, as any other branch of public international law, is of evolutive nature, so future adjustments and developments of its legal normativity in light of the abrupt growth and multiplication of the exploration and uses in the space arena remain open.

Article

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.