Space Law and Policy
Space law and policy is in its infancy and is subject to change and development. Space law involves domestic and international conventions, agreements, rules, and principles. Space law deals with topics including space exploration and diplomacy, damage liability, weapons use, rescue efforts, environmental preservation, information sharing, commerce, new technologies, and ethics. Even the definitions of airspace and guidelines the for space exploration are yet to be universally established.
Since 1919, nation states have controlled the space directly above their territories. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Space Act were enacted by Acts of the United States Congress during the Cold War in response to Russia launching the Sputnik satellite (1957) which crossed national borders.
The fundamentally authoritative textbooks are Space Law and Government (1962) by attorney Andrew G. Haley, Esquire and Law and Public Order in Space by Myers McDougal and, Harold Laswell, and Ivan Vlasic (1963).
Space law and policy are enacted thru the United Nations (UN) Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs Subcommittee (COPUOS), the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and its Scientific, Technical, and Legal Subcommittees, as well as the United Nations General Assembly. A few of the major international space principles, declarations, and treaties include the following and are based on consensus:
- The Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Uses of Outer Space (1963). Principles include no nation may claim ownership of any celestial body. Governmental and non-governmental bodies must abide by international law and their activities become the responsibility of their nation state.
- Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, the “Outer Space Treaty,” (1967). The Outer Space Treaty is the most widely accepted space treaty with 104 signatories. It has served as the foundational legal document with organizational assistance from the International Telecommunications Union.
- Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space, the “Rescue Agreement” (1968),
- Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, the “Liability Convention” (1972),
- Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space, the “Registration Convention” (1975),
- Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, the “Moon Treaty” (1979) promotes space exploration as the common heritage of man so no nation may claim sovereignty over any part of outer space. Military weapons of mass destruction are banned in space. Below surface enterprises are permitted provided there is protection from contamination.
- Principles Governing the Use by States of Artificial Earth Satellites for International Television Broadcasting (1982) promotes free and equal dissemination and mutual exchange of information and knowledge especially for the developing world. States maintain sovereignty and responsibility for activities within their boundaries of authority.
- The Principles Relating to Remote Sensing of the Earth from Outer Space (1986) covers operations and use of electromagnetic waves, primary and processed data collection, storage, interpretation, and dissemination.
- Principles Relevant to the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space (1992) protects individuals, populations, and the biosphere from radiological hazards.
- Declaration on International Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for the benefit and the Interest of All States, Taking into Particular Account the Needs of Developing Countries (1996) protects the freedom of sovereign states in all development stages to explore and use outer space while promoting international cooperation.
- International Space Station Agreement (1998) promotes cooperation between the United States, Canada, member states of the European Space Agency, Japan, Russia on the Civil International Space Station. NASA leads coordination and contributions on the space station but each nation has jurisdiction over its own modules. The ISSA may well provide the foundations for facilities cooperation on the Moon and Mars where the first near-earth colonies and scientific and industrial bases will be established.
- Domestic and international space law and policy must encourage and not hinder investment in space while complying with international law. Developing nations are demanding regulation that does not monopolize them out of the market for space resources. With the expansion of commercial activities in space such as mining, tourism, private exploration, and spaceports, many countries, such as the United States, Japan, and Luxembourg, are beginning to set regulations on private space ventures.
Due to gravity, objects in geostationary orbit remain at the same point over Earth to send radio frequencies to and from satellites to collect data and send signals. The United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space has approved the following nonmilitary purposes for geostationary orbit allocation which in case of dispute are often resolved by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU):
- Earth resources and environment,
- Navigation and aircraft control,
- Testing of new systems,
- Astronomy, and
- Data relay.
The Bogota Declaration (1976) declared nations near the Equator could assert the right to control the use of air space above their territories.
Space law and policy will have to deal in the future with ethical dilemmas. Although the “Outer Space Treaty” (1967) permits the commercial exploitation of space for construction, mining, resource processing, transportation, and even tourism, habitation, and colonization, public and private entities will still remain subject to international and national regulation. Article II of the Outer Space Treaty outlaws all nations from appropriating by any means or use any celestial body but the article does not mention private associations or corporations.
A central issue for us as we venture into the oceans of space will be how much do we value other living biological organisms, celestial bodies, and objects in space compared to ourselves as human beings. In essence, as we move in time deeper into space, we will still have to balance conservation of the nature of the Earth and Universe we need with our desire to profit from the resources we want. Ultimately, as Carl Sagan said in his stunning epic documentary Cosmos, it is up to each of us to speak for Earth.
Several organizations have made useful contributions to space colonization.
- The Space Studies Institute (SSI) funds space habitat studies. http://ssi.org/
- The National Space Society (NSS) envisions people living and working in flourishing communities. The NSS archives full text articles and books on space settlement. https://space.nss.org/
- The Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) advocates for space based on free market capitalist views of development. https://spacefrontier.org/
- The Living Universe Foundation (LUF) has a detailed plan for colonization of the entire galaxy. http://www.luf.org/
- The Mars Society (MS) argues for settlement of Mars based on Robert Zubrin’s Mars Direct plan. http://www.marsfoundation.org/
- The largest space interest group, The Planetary Society (PS), emphasizes robotic exploration in the search for extra-terrestrial life. http://www.planetary.org/
- The Space Settlement Institute (SSI) seeks ways to make space colonization occur during our lifetimes. http://www.space-settlement-institute.org/
- In 1980, students from Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) formed the Students for Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS). http://seds.org/
- The Alliance to Rescue Civilization (ARC) intends to establish back-up plans for human civilizations on the Moon and other off-Earth locations. https://web.archive.org/web/20060908050500/http://www.robertshapiro.org/work3.htm
- The Artemis Project intends to set up a private surface station on the Moon. http://www.asi.org/
- The British Interplanetary Society (BIS) furthers ideas on the exploration and utilization of space, including a Mars colony, locating habitable worlds, future propulsion systems, such as Project Daedalus, and terraforming. In June of 2013, the BIS commenced reexamination and revision of space colony studies from the 1970s. https://www.bis-space.com/
- Asgardia is an organization and nation seeking to circumvent limitations of the Outer Space Treaty. https://asgardia.space/en/