A Breakdown of Space Law

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For many of us, being an astronaut was up there for our younger selves when it came to what we wanted to be when we grew up. But then, we grew up, and then we realized we don’t have the 20/20 vision, the necessary interest to get a degree in the sciences, or the desire to spend months or years eating nothing but freeze-dried food. Still, the desire to be a part of the exploration of the great unknown stirs at your soul, which is where space law comes in.

Space is the final frontier, so it may initially seem strange that there is law governing what happens out there.

However, we’ve moved past the time of the Wild West, so space law encompasses international law, national law, and customs that govern the behavior of humans in outer space.

Space law, at its core, is based on the 1967 Treaty on 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”), the first, most vague, and most widely adopted treaty on space (nations are more willing to adopt treaties when the terms are more vague and there is more wiggle room). It sets out that the exploration and use of outer space is to be for the benefit of all mankind; outer space and its celestial bodies are open for exploration by all nations; all nations are responsible for its activities, including those by non-governmental entities; and nations have jurisdiction over its space objects and personnel within.

The 1998 International Space Station Agreement is an agreement entered into by the International Space Station nations, which in include the United States, Canada, Japan, and others. Like the Outer Space Treaty, it sets out that nations have jurisdiction over their own modules, and it also sets out guidelines for intellectual property and criminal prosecution.

United States government agencies involved in space endeavors must comply with not only federal law, but international treaties. When it comes to practicing space law, you’ll be dealing with state contract and tort laws, as certain industries, such as telecommunications, with its satellites and remote sensing, is involved space. You will, of course, also be dealing with federal law, which involves intellectual property, liability, environmental issues, and licensing. such as the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015.

The Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015 addresses the future of space—the entry of commercial and other nonfederal entities into space. The Act works to comply with international law, which allows for the development of space resources when nations provide a framework for the resolution of liability, ownership, and operational issues (among other conditions). It addresses how to assign property rights for resources for asteroids and how to resolve legal disputes.

Space law isn’t widely practiced, given the limited number of entrants into the space game, but with private entities starting to explore space — Elon Musk’s goal of colonizing Mars, anyone?—it’s a growing area of the law worth exploring (pun intended).

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