Wherever humankind sets its dream, follows the law. Space law and related regulations exist since the entrance in force of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, less than 50 years ago. However, new initiatives about commercial use of space, such as private spaceflights beyond the Kármán line, have arisen. Those projects highlight the necessity of an evolving regulation of Earth’s orbits and outer Space.
During the last century, Alex Meyer, the first legal pioneer of Space law, stated that there was no need in Space Law for an analogy to Air Law or Antartica Sea Law. The reason was that the fundamentally different structure of the sovereinty of free outer space would not allow for any analogy :this new medium for human activities would and should be free of any sovereign rights of states.
The Outer Space Treaty, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1967, precises the basic framework on international space law, including the following principles :
- the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind ;
- outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
- outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means ;
- States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner ;
- the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes ;
- astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind ;
- States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental entities ;
- States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects;
- States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.
The environmental concerns are also adressed by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). For example, the Mars One project – aiming to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars – has begun discussions with Prof. Dr. John D. Rummel of the COSPAR panel of planetary protection to identify the measures that need to be taken with respect to prevent any contamination of the planet’s soil.
Humankind’s relation to Space has evolved beyond the dream, to become a new territory of exploration, scientific interest – and law. How can we address the ownership status of a mining platform set on an asteroïd ? What will be the requierement of civil law in Space, when more and more manned missions tend to be launched ? Should the status of the Moon, current common heritage of Humankind, be changed or definitely set in stone, when the NASA seeks additional information on small Lunar surface payloads as we speak ? And what about the bioethical questions of extraterrestrial cells and organisms researches – should we discover some -, and ethical questions related to artificial intelligence ?
As humans learn to live and work independently from Earth, future explorers in deep space may be able to make use of resources found naturally in extraterrestrial soil. Robotic missions to the moon could inform our Journey to Mars and how we might use available materials to generate water, oxygen and fuel in space. Understanding the availability of resources on the moon will be very important in developing strategies for the pioneering of deep space. – Erin Mahoney for nasa.gov
Our legal team of legal professionals and students shares contributions on a regular basis, on the topics of Space and Air Law, Satellite regulation, International Law, bioethics and analysis related to the fringe fields of space microbiology and artificial intelligence. They also publish answers and summaries to the [ASK] department, a feature allowing interested people and professionals to ask them topics-related questions :
- Mihai-Claudiu Dragomirescu, Team Manager. Protection Intern at United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
- Hamza Hameed, Air and Space Lawyer
- Dmitry Prokoiuk, International lawyer in Corporate, Space and Satelite Law
- Guilherme Batista de Almeida, trainee in General Prosecution, São Paulo
- Steffen Jones Student in Security and Investigations at University of Phoenix, Middlebury, Indiana
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We wish you a stellar exploration.
The Space Law Resource Team