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INDIA AND SPACE LAW: REACHING BEYOND THE HORIZON

introduction

When USSR’s satellite Sputnik-1 crossed the atmosphere and reached space in 1957, it opened new possibilities and opportunities for humanity on earth. Despite ancient beliefs and misconceptions, humans have found ways to leave the planet and explore the mysteries beyond the horizon. And the dream of putting a man in space didn’t take long, as Yuri Gagarin reached and orbited the planet in the first manned space mission in 1961. Soon after, many countries such as USA, UK, and Japan conducted many space missions and explored the galaxy. Humankind has even conquered the moon and is now on the way to reaching Mars. 

India joined space exploration and first placed itself in orbit on April 19, 1975, with the Aryabhata satellite. Since then, we have successfully conducted many missions and established our position in outer space. Missions like Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan have made India one of the superpowers in space. 

So, space is not beyond our limits but within our grasp. Space exploration has become a competition to prove a nation’s capability and part of its pride. More and more countries are joining the journey of conquering space. And thus, it has become necessary to monitor and regulate activities in the space through laws and regulations. United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) is the forum for developing and monitoring international space law. The organization has introduced five treaties and five declarations to govern all the bodies in space and states going there. Many countries have signed and ratified these documents and made laws and regulations regarding space exploration, fundamental rights in space, public-private relationships, etc. However, despite reaching space in 1975, India still needed a specific space law to govern it in outer space. And the only authority to conduct any mission in space is monopolized and led by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Does India need special outer space legislation or the treaties are enough?

SPACE LAW TREATIES AND PRINCIPLES

The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) was established in 1958 to govern and ensure a peaceful exchange of affairs in outer space. The office works with all 193 members of the United Nations. Since its establishment, this organization has been working to make the space accessible to all and bring a harmonic relation among the countries to explore the space peacefully to advance mankind. The office also works as a guardian for developing countries and gives them ample opportunity to conduct research and space exploration. UNOOSA has introduced five treaties, forming the corpus of international space law.

  1. The Outer Space Treaty, 1967

According to this treaty, a state party is responsible for national activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies. 

  1. Rescue agreement, 1968

The agreement imposes a duty on the state to rescue astronauts, returnING astronauts, and return objects launched in space to the parent country.

  1. Liability convention, 1972

This convention clarifies and determines the liabilities of a state which causes damage to another by launching space vehicles such as rockets or space launch vehicles. Under this convention, it is not the private person but the state who is liable for damages. 

  1. Registration convention, 1974

The Registration convention is the convention that requires all the party-state to keep a register of objects it launches and returns from space. It addresses the issues relating to state-party responsibility concerning any space objects.

  1. Moon agreement, 1979

This agreement reaffirms and details that a state should only use the celestial bodies from space for peaceful reasons such as education, research, and similar nature. And forbids conducting any research with them which can harm humans. It also declares that the moon and other celestial bodies are the common heritage of mankind. So, no country should assert its claim on them. 

Alongside these treaties, there are five declarations and legal principles-

  • The “Declaration of Legal Principles” (1963);
  • The “Broadcasting Principles” (1982);
  • The “Remote Sensing Principles” (1986);
  • The “Nuclear Power Sources” Principles (1992);
  • The “Benefits Declaration” (1996).

SPACE LAW IN USA AND UK

The USA is a good example of countries that has a space legal framework. The country has one of the best and most definitive space laws and administrative systems. The USA is a party to four international treaties. They established NASA through the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. Commercial space exploration is also essential to the USA, and they have introduced the 2010 National Space Policy and the 2013 National Space Transportation Policy. These policies aim to energize competitive domestic ventures in the space industry as well as encourage and facilitate commercial space transportation. SpaceX and Blue Origin are the most significant examples of their public-private relationship regarding space exploration. In 2015, the USA passed a new act named the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which recognizes agreements for mining celestial bodies such as Moon rocks. 

Besides this, any US citizen having a commercial license is qualified to own, sell, transport, and use space rock as per appropriate regulations. The USA has one of the best and most comprehensive legal structures in the space sector due to its deep research history and success in space exploration. 

Similarly, the UK is another country that has done well in the field of space legislation. Although the UK is less successful than other developed countries, they have introduced some extravagant judicial mechanisms in its space legal framework. Since 2010 United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA) has controlled all outer space activities in the UK. They are party to the treaties of international space law, and right off the bat, they had the Outer Space Act of 1986. This Act allows the government to perform activities with other countries per international law. The Space Industry Act 2018 expands the arrangements for space and sub-orbital activities. This Act also describes offenses and documents the procedures for punishments.

SPACE LEGISLATION AND REGULATIONS IN INDIA

India has one of the largest space organizations, ISRO, but it still needs a proper legal framework. The country is internationally part of five treaties and a signatory state of the Moon Treaty, 1979. The policy of ISRO is based upon the strategy to exchange skills of advancement to sustain Indian ventures and their application in the commercial domain concerning space projects. The country has some policies that somewhat regulate space exploration. The policies are catered toward ISRO, as in India, they are the only institution that conducts space exploration and research. 

The Satellite Communication Act, 1997 was enacted to regulate and develop satellite communication. The 2011’s Remote Sensing Data Policy allows the government to impose control over the imaging and distribution of data obtained from the IRS or any other Indian satellite when it is a matter of national security.

However, ISRO has recently approved the setup of IN-SPACe, which is likely to be set up to bring private companies into the space industry to develop Indian space research and exploration. The most recent activity in this arena was the introduction of the Draft Space Activities Bill in 2017 for public opinion. The bill covers India’s space goals and plans, as well as the obligation of national and internarial character. It also contains offenses, subsequent punishment, and liabilities for damages. Additionally, it covers all the particulates of introducing companies in the space industry. However, since its introduction, it has been nearly five years, and it still needs to be enacted as an act.

CONCLUSION

For many reasons, we have never realized the importance of having a space law in India. Firstly, to date, the space industry in our country is government owned. And there was no private party intending or willing to invest in India’s space sector. Only recently, after some success, the private sector observed the potential of India’s space program. So India has no strict regulations for dealing with private investors or companies. ISRO works with some third-party suppliers but not any active involvement from any of them. 

Secondly, India has not been planning to explore space with a manned or unmanned mission for a long time. However, the goal has changed drastically with missions like the Chandrayaan or Gaganyaan project. So, it is important to have regulations and protocols when putting a human in outer space. 

Finally, the subject of liability is an important matter. As India is launching satellites for other countries in space, an accident damaging the payloads may put India at liability. Similarly, what if space debris from an Indian spacecraft falls on a country? As a signatory to the 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, India must pay for the damage. With proper regulation, it will be easier for the authority to measure the quantum of damages it has to pay. Our country can only address these issues if we have space legislation. Not so long ago in India, space was more of an international issue than a domestic issue. But time has changed, and we need a modern and robust space legal mechanism as we reach the apex of space exploration and beyond the horizon.

Author(s) Name: Fardeen Bin Abdullah (University of Rajshahi, Rajshahi 6205, Bangladesh)