“Lawst in Space” The concept of space law, an aspect of international law, began with United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s introduction of the idea into the United Nations in 1957, in connection with disarmament negotiations. The United Nations General Assembly assumed responsibility for all outer space matters and discharged it primarily through its Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). It was established in 1958, shortly after the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to be put into outer space by the Soviet Union, as an ad hoc committee.
In 1959 it was formally established by United Nations resolution 1472 (XIV). At that time the Committee had 24 members. Since then it has grown to 69 members and is one of the largest Committees in the United Nations. The mission of COPUOS is “to review the scope of international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space, to devise programs in this field to be undertaken under United Nations auspices, to encourage continued research and the dissemination of information on outer space matters, and to study legal problems arising from the exploration of outer space. The boundary between airspace, the air over each national territory which is subject to that country’s sovereign control, and outer space remains open to debate. Some favor definitions based on the composition of the atmosphere. Others favor a functional approach; if commercial airlines use a particular layer of the atmosphere, it should be considered airspace. The current international legal rules on outer space rest on five treaties.
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They are the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including Other Celestial Bodies (Outer Space Treaty of 1967), the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (Rescue Agreement), the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (Moon Treaty of 1979), the 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (Liability Convention) and the 1975 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (Registration Convention).
Each of these treaties underlines the notion that the domain of outer space, the activities carried out therein and whatever benefit might accrue as a result should be devoted to enhancing the well-being of all countries and humankind, and each includes elements elaborating the idea of promoting international cooperation in outer space activities.
The Outer Space Treaty was considered by the Legal Subcommittee in 1966 and agreement was reached in the General Assembly in the same year thru resolution 2222 (XXI). The Treaty was largely based on the Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, which had been adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 1962 (XVIII) in 1963, but added a few new provisions.
The Treaty was opened for signature by the three depository Governments, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, in January 1967, and it entered into force in October 1967. As of January 1, 2008, 98 States, including the United States and all the other major spacefaring countries, had ratified and an additional 27 had signed the Outer Space Treaty.
The Outer Space Treaty provides 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 pace shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodes ???outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means ???states undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner ???the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military maneuvers on celestial bodies shall be forbidden ???astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind ???States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried ut by governmental or non-governmental activities ???a state that launches a satellite is internationally liable for damage to another State Party to the Treaty or to its natural or juridical persons by such object or its component parts on the Earth, in air space or in outer space ???States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies ???in the exploration and use of outer space, parties shall be guided by the principle of co-operation and mutual assistance and shall conduct all their activities in outer space …. with due regard to the corresponding interests of all other States Parties… If a State Party to the Treaty has reason to believe that an activity or experiment planned by it or its nationals in outer space . . . would cause potentially harmful interference with the activities of other States Parties in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space . . . t shall undertake appropriate consultations before proceeding with any such activity or experiment The Rescue Agreement was considered and negotiated by the Legal Subcommittee from 1962 to 1967. Consensus agreement was reached in the General Assembly in 1967 thru resolution 2345 (XXII), and the Agreement entered into force in December 1968. The Agreement provides that States shall take all possible steps to rescue and assist astronauts in distress and promptly return them to the launching State, and that States shall, upon request, provide assistance to launching States in recovering space objects that return to Earth outside the territory of the Launching State.
As of January 1, 2008, 90 States, including the United States, had ratified, 24 had signed the Rescue Agreement and two international intergovernmental organizations, the European Space Agency and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, had declared its acceptance of the rights and obligations provided for in this Agreement. The Liability Convention was considered and negotiated by the Legal subcommittee from 1963 to 1972. Agreement was reached in the General Assembly in 1971 thru resolution 2777 (XXVI), and the Convention entered into force in September 1972. It provides that a launching State shall be absolutely liable to pay compensation for damage caused by its space objects on the surface of the Earth or to aircraft, and liable for damage due to its faults in space. The Convention also provides for procedures for the settlement of claims for damages.
As of January 1, 2008, 86 States had ratified, 24 had signed the Liability Convention and three international intergovernmental organizations, the European Space Agency, the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, and the European Telecommunications Satellite Organization, had declared their acceptance of the rights and obligations provided for in this Agreement. The Registration Convention provides that the launching State should furnish to the United Nations, as soon as practicable, the following information concerning each space object: ???name of launching State ???an appropriate designator of the space object or its registration number ???date and territory or location of launch ???basic orbital parameters, including: onodal period (the time between two successive northbound crossings of the equator) oinclination (inclination of the orbit) apogee (the highest altitude above the Earths surface) operigee (the lowest altitude above the Earths surface) ???general function of the space object Member States conducting space launches have been requested by the Committee to provide the United Nations with information on their launchings. A registry of launchings has been maintained by the Secretariat since 1962, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 1721 B (XVI). Since the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space entered into force in 1976, another register of launchings has been established for information received from Member States and intergovernmental organizations that are parties to the Convention.
As of 1 January 2008, 51 States, including the United States, had ratified, 4 had signed and two international intergovernmental organizations, the European Space Agency and European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, had declared their acceptance of the rights and obligations provided for in the Registration Convention. The Moon Agreement was considered and elaborated by the Legal Subcommittee from 1972 to 1979. The Agreement was adopted by the General Assembly in 1979 thru resolution 34/68. It was not until June 1984, that the fifth country, Austria, ratified the Agreement, allowing it to enter into force in July 1984.
The Agreement reaffirms and expands upon many of the provisions of the Outer Space Treaty as applied to the Moon and other celestial bodies, providing that those bodies should be used exclusively for peaceful purposes, that their environments should not be disrupted, that the United Nations should be informed of the location and purpose of any station established on those bodies. In addition, the Agreement provides that the Moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind and that an international regime should be established to govern the exploitation of such resources when such exploitation is about to become feasible. As of January 1, 2008, 13 States had ratified, and an additional 4 had signed the Moon Agreement. In addition to the treaties discussed above, at least 20 countries have specific domestic legislation governing space-related activities.
In the United States, several provisions of internal law directly affect military activities in space: some include criminal penalties for specified violations, other state broad policy or flat prohibitions on government funding of a particular program. In 42 U. S. C. 2451, Congress declared that “it is the policy of the United States that activities in space should be devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind. ” 18 U. S. C. 1367 states, “Whoever, without the authority of the satellite operator, intentionally or maliciously interferes with the authorized operation of a communications or weather satellite or obstructs or hinders any satellite transmission shall be fined in accordance with this title or imprisoned not more than ten years or both. The section excludes for prohibition “lawfully authorized investigative, protective, or intelligence activity of a law enforcement agency or of an intelligence agency of the United States. ” It does not confer a similar exception upon the military. Prominent among the legislative prohibitions against selected military operations in space, the Tsongas Amendment, passed in 1983 and again in 1984, barred anti-satellite weapon tests in space unless the president provided specified certifications regarding treaty negotiations. From 1985 through 1988, Congress extended this approach one step further, prohibiting anti-satellite weapon tests against objects in space unless the Soviet Union tested its own anti-satellite weapon first.
Later, as attention shifted to energy beams instead of kinetic interceptors as potential anti-satellite weapons, Congress imposed a prohibition against the use of lasers to illuminate an object in orbit; this limitation expired in 1995. Finally, in 1997, President Clinton exercised his short-lived “line item veto” power to delete from the Department of Defense Authorization Act all funding for the Army’s kinetic energy anti-satellite weapon missile and two other programs connected to space control. After the Supreme Court invalidated the line item veto procedure, Congress appropriated additional funds for those systems in the 1999 act. Outer space is becoming a more dangerous place.
Several countries, including Russia and China along with the United States, have developed sophisticated anti-satellite weapons, and several others are thought to be developing such technologies. If they continue to proliferate, anti-satellite weapons have the potential to dramatically undermine fundamental U. S. interests, including national security and international commerce. A May 1998 failure by a single Galaxy IV satellite caused 80 percent of the pagers in America to go dead, affecting some 37 million users. Along with pager systems, the Galaxy IV failure also disrupted cable and broadcast video feeds, credit card authorization networks and corporate communications systems for weeks.
Loss of a satellite or two affecting the Global Positioning System (GPS), used for improved navigation and precision timing, could result in a significant disruption to the majority of the United States air transportation system. The episode was deemed an accident. China, however, made it known that future malfunctions might not be accidental. “For Countries that could never win a war by using the methods of tanks and planes, attacking the U. S. space system may be an irresistible and most tempting choice,” said a report in the state-run Xinhua News Agency days after the malfunction. Recent developments have increased concerns about the dangers of weaponization of space and have led to various proposals to prevent such weaponization.
Proposals have been made that would address the gap in the existing legal regime, in particular by expanding it to address such issues such as the deployment in outer space of other weapons of any kind (laser, directed energy weapons, kinetic energy weapons) and the ban on testing, deployment and use of anti-satellite weapon whether earth-based or space-based, and on non-use of force or threat of force against outer space objects. Also, the concept of outer space as a sanctuary from war is receiving considerable attention. On January 11, 2006, China successfully used a missile to destroy an orbiting satellite. The ground-based, medium-range ballistic missile knocked an old Chinese weather satellite from its orbit about 537 miles above Earth. Under a space policy authorized by President Bush in August 2005, the United States asserted a right to “freedom of action in space” and said it will “deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so. It seems embarrassing to proclaim that the U. S. would “dissuade” any power that seeks military leverage in space, and then to confront, only six months later, evidence that exactly what they set out to prevent had happened. The U. S. is still far ahead of China, but the big guy on the block lost an important advantage. On February 27, 2008, President Bush ordered the Navy to shoot down a broken spy satellite hurtling toward Earth. U. S. officials said the main reason they shot down the satellite was because of the potential health hazard to humans in the event the satellite’s fuel tank, carrying 1,000 pounds of toxic hydrazine, landed in a populated area.
If the satellite crashed with its fuel tank intact, the hydrazine could contaminate an area as large as two football fields with similar effects as chlorine gas. In comparison, on July 11, 1979, the U. S. space station Skylab, came down to earth and most of it landed over Australia’s Western regions. Skylab weighed approximately 77. 5 tons and was 118 feet long. The parts of Skylab that survived re-entry were scattered over hundreds of miles and the largest piece was about 6 feet long. The satellite in question, USA 193, a US Radarsat that malfunctioned shortly after it was launched in December 2006, weighed only 5 tons, a fraction of Skylab. The concept that the fuel tank of the spy satellite would survive re-entry seems unreasonable.
Skylab was a worse case scenario and its re-entry did minimal damage and resulted in no injuries. The town of Esperance, Australia, which was blanketed with a light coating of small Skylab debris, fined the U. S. State Department $400 for littering. It is interesting to note that, despite the U. S. liability to “pay compensation for damage caused by its space objects on the surface of the Earth”, 29 years later this fine remains unpaid. The U. S. was quick to condemn the Chinese for shooting down one of their satellites in 2006 on the grounds that the explosion would further exacerbate the “space junk” in orbit problem, but now it was now acceptable, based on a transparent excuse, for us to do the same thing.
In my opinion, the Pentagon and President Bush wanted to use this opportunity as an excuse to violate the international treaty against weapons in space to show off the power of the U. S. military and show the Chinese communist regime they’re not the only ones with working anti-satellite technology. The United States must avoid an arms race or an anti-arms race in anti-satellite technology. The effects of an arms race in space could dramatically undermine fundamental U. S. interests relative to international commerce. On December 27, 2001, President Bush signed a proclamation granting permanent normal trading relations (PNTR) status to the People’s Republic of China. China now is the fourth largest trade partner of the United States. The United States is the second largest trade partner of
China and China’s second largest source of imports, next to Japan. The treaties have been successful so far in ensuring that weapon systems with strike capabilities remain in practice, if not by law, banned from space. While the regimen does not guarantee the prevention of an arms race in outer space, it plays a significant role in achieving that goal. Deployment of weapons in space by one country would encourage others to follow. The resulting arms race would deprive humanity of all the benefits of the peaceful use and exploration of space. Recent advances in science and space technologies have put the development of space weapons within the realm of possibilities for a greater number of countries.
Only the determination and unified will of the international community to strictly enforce the underlying principle of the Outer Space Treaty, that space is to be used for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, permitting only peaceful space activities and limiting military space activities to non-aggressive forms, can prevent such a development. Efforts to achieve a ban on the weaponization of outer space must continue so as to protect the space assets of all nations in the interests of international peace and security. The international community of space-faring nations must recognize the need for restraint and seek to develop some legal regime to preserve outer space as a non-militarized or at least non-weaponized realm. Guidelines do exist, published by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC).
The guidelines limit creation of debris in normal operations, and promote “disposal” either by de-orbiting junk back towards earth, where it usually burns up in the atmosphere, or by putting space junk into “graveyard” orbits above the commercially important low-Earth and geostationary orbit zones. But more needs to be done. The U. S. Space Command monitors space debris and other objects, reporting directly to NASA and other agencies whenever there’s threat of an orbital impact. As of June 21 2000, the agency counted 8,927 man-made objects in orbit around the Earth. Of the total, 2,671 are satellites, 90 are space probes that have been launched out of Earth orbit, and 6096 are mere chunks of debris.
International space law needs updating to meet present-day realities. Such topics as the delimitation and definition of outer space, space debris, regulation of scientific research, intellectual property rights, and other issues need to be addressed. Treaties need to be renewed, revisions need to me made to existing treaties and new treaties need to be developed. Bender, Bryan. “Broken satellite will be shot down. ” The Boston Globe. February 15, 2008. Buckley, William F. , Jr. , “China up there. (On the Right)”, National Review, March 5, 2007 Colonna, Thomas E. & Thomas, Desencia E. “Be Careful Saving the World From Near-Earth-Orbit Objects: You May Be Breaking the Law. ” Mercury, Vol. 8 Issue 5, September/October 1999 Curtis, Anthony R. PH. D. , “Covering Space From Earth to the Edge of the Universe”, Space Today Online, www. spacetoday. org Dhanapala, Jayantha. “The Outer Space Treaty at Thirty-Five. ” United Nations – Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) http://disarmament2. un. org/speech/14oct2002. htm Diederiks-Verschoor, I. H. Philepina, “An Introduction to Space Law”, Kluwer Law International, 1999 Graham, Thomas “International Law and the Military Uses of Space” Disarmament Diplomacy, Issue No. 63, March/April 2002 Krepon, Michael, “Lost in Space: The Misguided Drive Toward Antisatellite Weapons”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 80, No. 3, May/June 2001
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