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section heading icon     outer space

This page considers outer space as a point of reference for understanding cyberspace.

It covers -

subsection heading icon     introduction

The air and outer space have been portrayed as paradigms for cyberspace - areas of excitement (and boredom), commercial opportunity, political opportunism, danger, international conflict and global rulemaking of varying effectiveness.

US presidential candidate John F. Kennedy proclaimed in 1960 that

We stand at the edge of a New Frontier - the frontier of unfulfilled hopes and dreams. It will deal with unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.

Unreal Estate - The Men who Sold the Moon (New York: Lulu Press 2006) by Virgiliu Pop, Space: The Free-Market Frontier (Washington: Cato Institute 2002) edited by Edward Hudgins, Making Space Happen: Private Space Ventures and the Visionaries Behind Them (Medford: Medford Press 2002) by Paula Berinstein. Cautions are provided in NASA and the Space Industry (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Uni Press 2000) by Joan Lisa Bromberg

subsection heading icon     international law

The emergence of space law provides a model for the development of the 'law of cyberspace' because it has accommodated expectations about behaviour, commercial relationships, the role of the state, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and questions of jurisdiction.

Examples of questions that have been successfully addressed include -

  • what is the legal framework for activity in space, ie beyond the jurisdiction of a particular nation and potentially involving participants from several countries?
  • who owns outer space (with some Pacific states, for example, ambitiously seeking a rent from satellite owners whose 'birds' are parked in orbit in 'their' bit of space?
  • what is the legal framework for 'sales' of Lunar real estate

Salient international treaties are -

  • 1963 Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Under Water (Nuclear Test Ban Treaty)
  • 1967 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')
  • 1968 Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space ('Rescue Agreement')
  • 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects ('Liability Convention')
  • 1975 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space ('Registration Convention')
  • 1979 Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and other Celestial Bodies ('Moon Agreement').

The treaties are co-exist with a range of bilateral and multilateral agreements, along with UN General Assembly declarations and resolutions such as the 1963 Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Uses of Outer Space and 1992 Principles Relevant to the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space.
The Outer Space Treaty provides that states are internationally responsible for "national activities" in outer space irrespective of whether conducted by governmental agencies or non-governmental entities. National governments are obligated to authorise and supervise the activities of non-governmental entities. If a 'space object' such as a satellite is registered in a state, that nation retains jurisdiction and control over that object (using the maritime law model) and is responsible for any damage caused by the object.

The Treaty charmingly prohibits launching nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in outer space. It also identifies a duty not to interfere detrimentally with the interests of other States in exploration and use of outer space.

The 1968 Rescue Agreement obliges states to inform the launching authority and UN Secretary-General if the personnel of another nation's spacecraft make an emergency landing in its jurisdiction or are discovered to have "suffered accident or are experiencing conditions of distress". Signatories must render all necessary assistance to those personnel. States discovering space objects that have returned to Earth must inform the relevant nation and UN Secretary-General, and must assist in "practical steps" to recover a returned space object or component parts.

The Liability Convention imposes a liability for damage in the form of "loss of life, personal injury or other impairment of health, or loss or damage to property of States or of persons, natural or juridical, or property of international governmental organisations". That liability is imposed on a "launching State".

The Registration Convention obliges signatories to register all space objects for which they are responsible and inform the UN Secretary-General about every space object in the registry. That information should include identification of the launching state, a designator or registration number, date and location of launch, the general function of trhe object and basic orbital parameters such as inclination, apogee and perigee.

The 1979 Moon Agreement - so far ratified by a handful of states such as Australia, Belgium, Chile, Kazakhstan and Morocco - seeks to extend international law to activities on the Moon and other celestial bodies. 'Offworld' real estate is not to be subject to national appropriation by a claim of sovereignty, celestial bodies are to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes (with freedom of access to the Moon for scientific purposes) and activities disrupting the lunar environment are prohibited.

The Agreement proclaims that use of celestial bodies "shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interest of all countries, irrespective of the degree of economic or scientific development", with "the Moon and its natural resources" being "the common heritage of mankind". Special consideration will be given to "an equitable sharing" in the benefits derived from those resources.

Studies include Space Law In The United Nations, Publishers (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff 1985) by Marietta Benko & Willem de Graaff, An Introduction to Space Law (Boston: Kluwer 1993) by Isabella Diederiks-Verschoor, Space transportation liability: national and international aspects (London: Kluwer Law 1997) by R. Bender, Space Law, past, present and future (London: Kluwer 1991) by Carl Christol, The Law and Policy of air space and outer space: A Comparative Approach (London: Kluwer Law 2003) by Peter Haanappel and American Space Law: International & Domestic (Ames: Iowa State Uni Press 1988) by Nathan Goldman.

subsection heading icon     Australian law

The Space Activities Act 1998 (SAA) seeks to regulate space activities conducted in Australia (or by Australian nationals outside Australia) and to implement obligations under the UN space treaties, particularly those regarding registration of space objects and liability.

The Act cover regulation of launch facility operation, space object launching and the return of space objects. It requires that anyone operating a launching facility in Australia gain a space licence for each kind of launch vehicle. A launch permit or an exemption certificate is required to launch a space object from a facility located in Australia (an overseas launch certificate is required from Australian nationals to launch a space object from a facility located outside Australia). Authorisation is also required for the return of any space object, whether launched from overseas or from Australia.

subsection heading icon     other resources

For international frameworks see the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and European Centre for Space Law (ECSL) sites.


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