INTO THE UNKNOWN: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO INTERNATIONAL SPACE LAW

INTRODUCTION

“Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you are”

– Felix Baumgartner

The Earth, as we know it, is a grain of sand in the expansive desert we call the universe. The human race has made strides in space exploration and discovered millions of astronomical objects we see in our night sky. Our never-ending curiosity of the unknown is only growing with the development of technology. Entrepreneurs like Elon Musk already envision a future where we colonise neighbouring planets, like Mars. With ambitious goals like this, certain questions arise, who owns Outer space? Do we all own it by belonging to the human race? Does the ownership of Outer Space lie with the countries that have the technological capabilities to reach it?

THE INCEPTION OF THE SPACE AGE

The advent of the Space age, also known as the beginning of the new era in the evolution of the human race began in 1957, when the USSR launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik I. This launch triggered a race for the development and innovation of space technology between the USSR and the United States. The next major event was the Apollo 11 mission which was considered to be the most defining moment in space exploration when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. The 1990s ushered in a new phase where the governments of different countries including India were eager to make their mark in space. [1].

THE UNITED NATIONS OFFICE FOR OUTER SPACE AFFAIRS

The General Assembly in its resolution 1348(XIII) of 13 December 1958, created The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). The Assembly recognised that all countries share a similar interest in outer space and want to collectively use space to mutually benefit all countries. An ad hoc committee, The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space was established to discuss the legal aspects of space exploration and how the countries could peacefully use outer space as a shared resource. This committee, later on, came forward with five treaties on Outer Space that form the foundation of international space law. These treaties emphasize the fact that space-related activities must be carried out for the mutual gain and benefit of humankind. [2]

THE OUTER SPACE TREATY, 1967

The Outer Space treaty cements the fundamental principles of space exploration and space-related activities. The treaty declares space exploration and uses as a free enterprise that can be carried out by all states, it strengthens this principle by preventing countries from claiming space as their sovereign right. It prevents the use of space to place any nuclear weapons or other weapons in the earth’s orbit that can cause mass destruction. The treaty also places liability on the states for all Governmental or Non-governmental space activities carried out. States are also liable for any damage caused by the debris of their space objects and the harmful contamination of space.[3]

THE RESCUE AGREEMENT, 1968

This agreement emphasises the duty of the states about astronauts and space objects belonging to other states. The states must ensure that astronauts are rescued and assisted when there is distress and the states must ensure prompt rehabilitation of the astronauts to the launching state as astronauts are considered to be envoys of mankind to outer space. The states should also ensure that they support the launching states in retrieving any space objects that have fallen out of orbit upon their request. These principles are elaborated in Article 5 and Article 8 of the Outer space treaty. [4]

THE LIABILITY CONVENTION, 1972

The liability convention or the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space objects, highlights the principle mentioned under Article 7 of The Outer Space Treaty. The treaty dictates that the launching state will be liable to compensate for any damage caused by its space objects on the surface of the Earth, to other space objects or an aircraft. This treaty also provides for the procedure in which such compensation can be claimed and settled. An interesting feature of this treaty is that the private person is not held liable but the state to which the object belongs is held liable. [5]

THE MOON AGREEMENT, 1979

The Agreement mentions that the use of the moon and other celestial bodies must only be done for peaceful purposes and that the environments of these celestial bodies must not be contaminated and disturbed. The United Nations acts as a supervisory body and supervises over all the activities that take place on the surface and under the surface of such terrestrial bodies, [6] for example, if the United States establishes a Moonbase, the United States must be informed of the purpose of the moon base and also its location. Celestial Bodies are warehouses that contain large reserves of precious metals and other important natural resources. The moon is rich in Platinum, Aluminium and several rare-earth metals and this could come in handy when all resources are exhausted on earth. [7] .The Agreement states that all the natural resources found on the moon are “the common heritage of mankind” and one country or entity cannot exploit it for their private gains.

THE REGISTRATION CONVENTION, 1976

This treaty was enforced to supplement the Liability Convention and the Rescue Agreement as this treaty provided for the registration of all objects launched into space and this would in turn aid in the identification of the space objects, this treaty also mentions the role and responsibilities of states have towards the space objects they launch. [8]

In conclusion, space is becoming more accessible to different countries across the globe through collaborations and research and development projects undertaken by two or more countries. Developing countries like India are innovating and developing economical and efficient methods to expand the reach of man to outer space. Private Enterprises like SpaceX are at the forefront of space technology innovation as they continue to develop and innovate, the most recent success being the Falcon 9 rocket which is a reusable two-stage rocket that could be used to transport people and equipment to space. Blue Origin, an aerospace company is attempting to fly its first crewed flight, New Shepard to space, Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark Bezos are scheduled to fly on 20th July 2021. [9] . The company aims to provide commercial space travel to passengers who seek the thrill of being in outer space and this might very well be the first step towards it.

Author(s) Name: P Mir Minhaaj Ahmed (Student, CHRIST, Bengaluru)

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References:

 [1] “The New American Space Age: A Progress Report on Human SpaceFlight”. Aerospace Industries Association.

[2] https://www.unoosa.org/

[3] Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (Outer Space Treaty), 10 October 1967

[4] http://ops-alaska.com/IOSL/V1P1/1968_RescueAgreement_EN.pdf

[5] Convention on the International Liability for damage caused by space objects. Available at: https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%20961/volume-961-I-13810-English.pdf

[6] AGREEMENT GOVERNING THE ACTIVITIES OF STATES ON THE MOON AND OTHER CELESTIAL BODIES Available at: https://media.nti.org/documents/moon_agreement.pdf

[7] Warren and Taylor (2014). Treatise on geochemistry (2nd ed., Vol. 2), Boston, MA: Elsevier

[8] CONVENTION ON REGISTRATION OF OBJECTS LAUNCHED INTO OUTER SPACE; Available at: https://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties/registration-convention.html

[9] https://edition.cnn.com/2021/06/07/tech/jeff-bezos-space-blue-origin-new-shepard-flight-scn/index.html

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