Do you know legal framework for working in space?

Ignorance is no defence in law. Business owners must know all the legal requirements for running a business from financial regulations, through human resources issues to waste disposal. If you work in the vehicle industry, you have to know the legal minimum requirements for having vehicles on the road, insurance and maximum driving hours. Every industry has its own legal framework; do you know requirements for the space industry?

Artist's rendition of a satellite - mechanik/123RF Stock Photo

Artist’s rendition of a satellite – mechanik/123RF Stock Photo

Space Law begins within discussions at the United Nations at their Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA), and it’s associated Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Through these bodies a number of international agreements are approved covering how space and space activities should be operated. There have been five treaties agreed:

  1. 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 (known as the Outer Space Treaty).
  2. The 1968 Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (known as the Rescue Agreement).
  3. The 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (known as the Liability Convention).
  4. The 1975 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (known as the Registration Convention.
  5. The 1979 Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (known as the Moon Agreement).

Once a treated has been agreed, there is a two stage process to adopt the treaty into law in by individual countries. A country needs to first sign the treaty, then they must create their own national law to enact it – known as ratifying the treaty. Once a country has signed a treaty, it becomes binding on them. According to OOSA, of the 193 members of the United Nations at the 1st January 2014:

  • 128 countries had signed the Outer Space Treaty, although 25 still have to ratify it.
  • 118 countries had signed the Rescue Agreement, 24 still to ratify it.
  • 113 countries had signed Liability Convention, 22 still to ratify it.
  • 64 countries had signed the Registration Convention, although 4 still to ratify it.

Only 19 countries had signed the Moon Agreement, and 4 of those still have to ratify it.
Interestingly the UK has only signed the first four treaties, we have not signed the Moon Agreement. Other nations like the UK who have only signed the first four treaties include China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States of America. There are 13 countries that have signed and implemented all five treaties: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Pakistan, Peru, Turkey and Uruguay; in addition France and India have signed the treaty, but not yet ratified it.

In previous blogs we’ve highlighted that in the UK the 1986 Outer Space Act is the piece of legislation which contains enacts these treaties. It contains details about who the act applies to, the licensing requirements for operating in outer space, registration of space objects, actions that can be taken to prevent people operating in outer space and offences that can be committed. The offences can be committed both by individuals, and by corporate bodies. Other countries have their own legislation, it’s important that you read, and are aware of, the law in any country you are operating. Remember, ignorance is no defence.