A Brief Introduction to Space Law

Space law governs space related activities. Space law is considered international law because like general international law it is comprised of treaties, conventions, general assembly resolutions as well as the rules and regulations of international organizations.

There are five (5) United Nations treaties on outer space.  They are; The Outer Space Treaty; The Rescue Agreement; The Liability Convention; The Registration Convention; and The Moon Agreement.

The Outer Space Treaty governs activities of states in the exploration and use of outer space.  The Rescue Agreement applies to the rescue of astronauts, return of astronauts and the return of objects launched into outer space. The Liability Convention oversees international liability for damage caused by space objects. The Registration Convention’s emphasis is on the registration of objects launched into outer space. Finally, the Moon Agreement governs activities of states on the moon and other celestial bodies. 

For the last fifty years or so, the crux of these Agreements, although focusing on different facets of regulation, is peace and cooperation in space exploration and travel. These treaties and subsequent resolutions have always stressed that outer space is a universal territory and laboratory to which all states have equal and rightful access.  For example, Article 1 of the Outer Space Treaty provides “outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all states without discrimination of any kind, on the basis of equality and in accordance to international law”. Based on this premise of peace and cooperation, states have worked together to conduct research, help in emergency situations and have been diligent in following protocol associated with registration and liability.

However, the peace and cooperation landscape is changing quickly because of state dependence on the use of outer space satellites that monitor weather patterns, send television signals and that are used as  a primary source of timing for cell phone and pagers; the advent of space privatization; quasi-government collaborations for launching; and military use of space to operate imaging and communication satellites and use for the passage of some ballistic missiles. Based on all of this spatial activity, expect conflict founded upon ownership of space assets, appropriation of territory and  prospective liability based on injury to persons and damage of space objects and property.

It is obvious that states and agencies similar to the United Nations will have to promulgate legislation in order to accommodate all facets of space privatization and quasi-government collaborations.  Nevertheless, the issue at hand is will the current treaties have to be amended in order to accommodate potential conflicts in space? Or will additional treaties, conventions and resolutions have to be created in order to bridge the legal gap from peace to conflict. What do think? Let me know.

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