SEDS Bocconi

Space Law: an introduction to a new frontier

To infinity and beyond

I’m sure we’ve all seen movies such as “Interstellar”, “Ad Astra” or the famous “Star Wars” series and everything seemed to be so far from us and so imaginary but actually what was in people’s heads has begun to take shape years and years ago, moving from fantasy to reality.

From the moment engineering paved its way to space, law had to follow ; this is because usually when something is starting to be discovered it needs to be also restrained and governed by the law.

This is how space law evolved, but what is  “space law”?

In order to define the “space law” we have to first define law itself:

“Law can be defined as ‘the system of rules which a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and which it may enforce by the imposition of penalties.’”

Well , once we’ve stated what the law is we can easily refer to a particular field that develops over time- in particular, space, the focus of this article.

The term “space law” refers to a variety of international agreements, treaties and conventions as well as legislations that governs space-related activities.

space law refers to international treaties, agreements, and conventions

What is interesting and also surprising is to see how this big cluster is composed : there is a central body consisting of the five U.N. space treaties , but everything except that is confusing and composed not as a single comprehensive body of rules governing human activities in outer space but instead as a composite picture made by international and national levels , therefore it can be said that the main feature of the space law is its fragmentation.

The common aim of these treaties is to improve the well-being of the members of the international community , and the idea behind it is to regulate outer space activities (started with the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957) while coordinating through oversight by the UN.

Lastly what we can observe is that space law is not something that can be enclosed with boundaries but is a process still in evolution.

We could think that this process has began when man-made objects were launched into orbit around the earth but in reality the process has started years before and is still developing today , especially due to the fact that in the past 60 years new developments and technologies have increased rapidly.

What about our roots?

Let’s start by saying that Space law is a very modern field of regulation.

In 1910 Emile Laude, a Belgian legal expert asserted: “un droit nouveau regira les relations juridiques nouvelles. Cela ne sera plus du droit aerien, mais, a coup sur, il s’agit du droit de I’espace.” (“A new law will govern the new legal relations. It will no longer be air rights, but surely it will be space law. ”)

Even before Laude, in 1903, the Russian space pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky had already published a paper in which he anticipated human expansion in outer space by using liquid fuel rockets.

These pioneers were followed in 1932 by Vladimir Mandl, who published the first monographical study on space law.

During the years preceding World War II significant progress in space technology was made in countries like Germany, the USSR and the USA. Unsurprisingly, their activities received an enormous boost during the war and afterwards, leading eventually to the great breakthrough of 1957, when Sputnik I became the first satellite to orbit the Earth in outer space. This achievement was soon followed by a series of further successful experiments, all aimed at exploring and analysing the new dimension unfolding itself before the human eye.

In April 1961, Yuri Gagarin completed the first manned space flight, and in 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on another celestial body, the Moon.

It had, by then, already become apparent that legal rules were indispensable if confusion and undesirable practices in the use of outer space were to be avoided. In the wake of burgeoning space technology, space law soon became a reality.

A very important event was the international conference in Paris in 1910, a conference leading eventually to the Paris Convention, concluded in 1919.

Space law originated already in the 20th century

This international agreement, the first in aviation history, adopted as its basic tenet the ancient Roman law concept of cuius est solum, eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos. Its principal concern was to establish sovereign rights for states in the airspace above their territories up to an altitude where effective control could still be exercised, and to create rules regulating the use of it.

On 18 December 1958, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the need for international co-operation and for conventions establishing the common interest of mankind in outer space that could be used for peaceful purposes only. At the same time, an ad hoc committee was installed by the UN General Assembly to deal with the legal problems involved in space activities.

On 12 December 1959, a permanent body, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS) was established.

In 1961 the United Nations adopted a resolution which recognized that the exploration and use of outer space should be only for the betterment of mankind and to the benefit of states irrespective of the stage of their economic or scientific development.

Two fundamental principles were commended to states for their guidance in the exploration and use of outer space, namely: that international law including the Charter of the UN, applies to outer space and celestial bodies; and that outer space and celestial bodies are free for exploration and use by all states in conformity with international law and are not subject to national appropriation. The principles laid down in that Resolution were to form the basic element of the Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the exploration and Use of Outer Space in 19639 and the so-called ‘Outer Space Treaty’ of 1967. This UN treaty, which entered into force on 10 October 1967, is the cornerstone on which a number of space law treaties and sets of principles of later date have been based. Taken together they constitute the nucleus of international space law as it stands today.

WHY IS RAISING THE AWARENESS OF THE IMPORTANCE OF SPACE LAW CRUCIAL NOW?

Nowadays it is crucial to work on the awareness of a necessity to increase the attention on the importance of space law. That is one hand to facilitate access to, and the use of, space, and on the other to favor cooperation between all nations. We have faced an evolution and today the aim is to increase the use of space by all areas in order to achieve more knowledge on the Universe. Furthermore, it would be beneficial also to help the management of risk, to protect the environment, to maintain peace and security, and to achieve a high degree of cooperation in the interests of humanity as a whole.

States are starting to raise awareness of the need for a legal and political framework to permit them to all benefit from outer space in a peaceful way. This is caused by many factors starting from the increase in daily activities dependent on space technology which is directly linked to the national interests of the countries involved. Subsequently this has caused the arrival of new actors interested in space apart from States and the commercialization and privatization of outer space.

Unfortunately it has to be maintained that not all countries are parties to all these legal instruments. In facts, It is to be hoped that with the intertwining of law and technology, and the continuous repercussion of space activities on the Earth, more and more States will become conscious of the necessity for space law and will join international treaties.

It is not to be doubted that new actors and new subjects are appearing, and new topics are being discussed, such as the problem of the promotion of space law. Therefore, the existence of international colloquia is considered to be important both to achieve knowledge and to build an organization. It is also crucial to note that the outer space law born in the UN is complemented by many bilateral and multilateral agreements signed outside of the UN. Therefore it is found deeply needed a guide to embrace the entirety of all laws, regulations, customs, contracts, etc and literature concerning activities in outer space.

In order to understand the importance of this field of study, we should consider why Space Law is a matter of great interest for our future with its challenges and opportunities. First of all, we must consider how international co-operation between governments and institutions is and will be fundamental, especially given the large investments that space activities require. Examples of co-operation include the International Space Station, the European Space Agency, the global navigation satellite systems and the various remote sensing organizations.

Additional cooperative arrangements can be seen in the different satellite telecommunication organizations, both intergovernmental and private. However, problems remain to be solved as activity in space increases. As circumstances evolve, solid methods and agreements will have to be refined in order to establish an effective legal framework. Another concern is related to the environment. Let’s consider the problem that comes with space debris (or space junk, referring to big objects such as dead satellites left in orbit by humans at the end of their mission): it is imperative to raise the question of whether a legally binding instrument would be useful through the imposition of clear obligations.

Perhaps this would encourage both the responsible and less-responsible space-licensing authorities to set and implement appropriate environmental requirements. In human spaceflight, the law related to space tourism must be developed on an international as well as a national basis. The interaction of human beings in outer space can sometimes result in space tragedy. Difficult decisions may have to be made: if life-support on a space vehicle or a celestial base becomes insufficient to maintain the life of all present until help can arrive, who should survive? who decides? what are the criteria for the decision? Can an astronaut who becomes a threat to others be executed?

An additional matter is related to how rights in space may be recognized, and this still remains to be settled. This mostly refers to immoveable property on the Moon and other celestial bodies. Nowadays the law makes clear that national appropriation cannot occur. However, it is clear that in the future some formula will have to be developed to design at least an equivalent of “property” rights.

Entrepreneurs need to be assured that the assurance of an economic return on investment guaranteed by “terrestrial property law”, will also be available for investments in space. A new worry is also connected to the outer space traffic that has been increasing intensively: collision avoidance will be a major issue. Co-ordination and co-operation are required in order to provide a full, accurate real-time picture of the objects and satellites in outer space. Independent, one-sided monitoring is not sufficient.

Initially, the national space organizations that now monitor space objects could co-ordinate directly with each other, but inter-organizational co-ordination should become much wider and should involve international organizations able to set minimum standards. Lastly, we shall mention the importance of preserving outer space for peaceful purposes. Ever since the first explorations took place, it was evident that this new field was going to be fundamental for the leading countries around the world, in order to increase their power.

Space has been, is and will always remain, an area with so much military interest and involvement that it seems impossible to demilitarize outer space entirely. In this sense humankind must refrain from diminishing the vulnerable balance of neutral coexistence on earth and in space. It can do so by ensuring the creation of a legal framework to govern its activities, as pointed out in the preceding lines. Let’s just hope that we will be wise enough to keep exploring outer space in a spirit of collaboration and harmony. The current political climate may not appear to justify such a positive thought, but steps forward have been made and even bigger ones are possible with dedication and effort.

Space economy and Space law: an intergalactic connection

A brand new sector that is definitely starting to get a lot of attention is the commercial space industry: if 50 years ago outer space was reserved for the most powerful nations, today there is a democratization of space.  
Commercial industry is inching us closer to the cosmos, and in this process, there is a growing interdependence between what is happening hundreds of miles up into space and down below on Earth. This is one of the reasons why today we hear more and more about the space economy. So, what is it?  

The Space Economy is defined by OECD as the full range of activities and the use of resources that create value and benefits to human beings in the course of exploring, researching, understanding, managing, and utilising space. Starting from research, development and construction of space-enabling infrastructures, the discipline reaches the generation of innovative “enabled” products and services (telecommunications, navigation and positioning services, environmental monitoring, weather forecast). 

The Space Economy is growing and evolving, together with the profound transformation of the space sector and the further integration of space into society and economy. Currently, the space market is worth approximately US$400 billion and the commercial space industry, using multi-million-dollar rockets and satellites, is increasingly playing a part in our everyday lives. 

One of the best-known living US entrepreneurs, Jeff Bezos said in a talk that Amazon’s success would not have been possible without access to pre existing infrastructure. He continued by saying that it is the job of the current generation to create similar infrastructures in space, so that humans in the future can benefit from the infinite resources and scale of the wider universe beyond Earth. He also said that an underlying legal framework is equally necessary for the management of all aspects of space. Therefore, space law and space economy are strongly intertwined. Just like the economic sector, the law of space will serve as the basis for humanity’s extra-planetary endeavours over the coming century. 

However, even today there is no shortage of occasions in which the law of space is applied. An example could be when some time ago, NASA astronaut Anne McClain was accused of illegally accessing her spouse’s bank account while she was aboard the International Space Station. This case raised several legal issues and questions about how to fight a crime committed in space: the main one is where the air ends and where the space begins. The international community has not been able to agree on this matter: people want to set limits and the only way to do that is to give themselves laws.  

To solve problems related to the economy of space, there have been five space treaties that have been negotiated since the 1960s and that govern the countries and their activities: they make states accountable for the activities of their citizens by creating national regulations so that nations carefully observe and regulate the activities of those who venture into space.  

An example is the Outer Space Treaty which constitutes a sort of Magna Charta of space: it states how the outer space must be freely explored and used by all States and how it must never be the object of occupation or exclusive appropriation through claims of sovereignty. It is the document that all space lawyers turn to when considering anything happening in space. 

So, basically, international agreements state that no government can claim outer space or celestial bodies as its own and this is –according to private companies seeking to invest in potential space ventures- the major obstacle to the future commercial development of space. The absence of property rights prevents them from obtaining external financing, hinders the protection of their investments in space and deprives them of the guarantee that they will be able to appropriate the income from their investment. In short, the lack of sovereignty in space jeopardizes the ability to profit from private investment. 

Furthermore, in the last decade, many countries enacted laws that recognize private enterprise. The rationale behind these laws is to outline a legal framework of reference that guarantees private individuals the rights on the resources they extract from space, to avoid the ultimate risk of relocation of these companies, moving to countries that are not part of the Outer Space Treaty. The Executive Order On Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources, promulgated on April 6, 2020 by President Donald J. Trump, is part of this legal framework and confirms the support of the U.S. policy to full commercial exploitation of the resources of the cosmos. 

In this international context, Italy boasts a long tradition in space activities: among the first nations in the world to launch and operate satellites in orbit, it is one of the founding members of the European Space Agency. Italy has recently defined a “Space Economy Strategic Plan”, which provides for a country an investment of approximately 4.7 billion euros, of which 50% covered with public resources, including national and regional, in addition to those ordinarily intended for space policies. The Plan is divided into 5 programmatic lines, according to the initiatives conducted at the European level: 

  1. Satellite telecommunications
  2. Support for national participation in Galileo
  3. Galileo PRS infrastructure
  4. Copernicus support
  5. Space exploration and related technological developments.

Although large regulatory gaps remain – both nationally and internationally – caused by the fact that it is a new and not yet fully codified discipline, Space Law, Space Economy and related space activities represent a new interest, not to underestimate. 

The voyage into space is not far, and the economy that will manifest from it has already proven to be grand. All in all, this is simply one small step for men, and one giant leap for the private sector. 

But what do the experts say?

As we have seen, this is very much a developing sector with new advancements being frequently. Despite this, multiple universities have started to offer courses in Space Law, including McGill, which runs an institute dedicated to furthering the interpretation and development of this field. Dr. Ram Jakhu has been the director since its creation, and was one of the first people to write a PhD in Space Law. He has claimed that countries are extremely invested in the development of new regulations in space thanks to the economic prospects.

Dr. Jakhu goes on to explain how the use of microgravity in manufacturing could bring massive changes, with the creation of “space factories”. He states that one of the largest challenges for the future development of Space Law is the lack of cooperation between nations. Given that any new treaties regulating nations’ conduct in outerspace would result in a limitation of their national sovereignty, there is very little political impetous at the national level to sign any such treaties.

For example, unlike the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which has been signed by all space-faring nations, the Moon Treaty of 1984 has to date only been ratified by 18 nations, none of which are space-faring, highlighting just how reluctant most nations are to accept any changes or limitations on their power. This has led to an extremely outdated status quo, which is unfit for the future and opens a Pandora’s box of potential legal questions and issues, especially when it comes to non-governmental organisations and companies.

The main limitation of the existing Outer Space Treaty (OST) is the fact that it does not apply to private individuals, a fact which has been criticised by many, given that this oversight has led to a complete lack of regulation for private-space companies such as SpaceX. This has been highlighted by Thomas Gangale, a leading jurist in Space Law, who writes that private companies could circumvent the OST and harvest minerals from the moon with no government restrictions or regulations, thus creating a frenzy to plunder these valuable resources.

Even the existing OST is vague in some points, and open to interpretation: while it prohibits the “appropriation of outer space, including celestial bodies”, some nations have taken this to mean any claims of ownership over extracted resources are illegitimate, others disagree, claiming it only prohibits them from claiming territory on astronomical bodies.

Jakhu believes that the largest challenge we face in this field is the increasing militarisation of space. We have seen a severe escalation in military tensions in outer space, culminating in the creation of the Space Force by President Trump. He goes on to criticise the pace of current Space Law, which – as we have seen – has almost completely stalled since the entering into force of the OST, stating that “the problems have increased significantly but the law has not kept pace with that”. While the OST prohibits the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space, it does not prohibit any other activities such as establishing military bases. If the new Space Force were to start challenging other nations’ access to space it would likely cause many legal issues, given that the accepted consensus is that space is a good for all mankind.

Overall the general consensus among space jurists is that the current treaties are extremely outdated, a fact that is at risk of being exploited by governments and companies alike, which could lead to the depletion of resources in space, and the increased militarisation of it.


What to do if a satellite is coming your way: A “Don’t look up” overview

What are we talking about

I am sure you have all heard about the latest movie “Don’t look up” by Adam McKay, at least because it was starring Leonardo Di Caprio.

This movie ironically foreshadows the events and reactions the world would have if the discovery of a comet hitting the planet would come out.

The results are not auspicious. Indeed, it emerges from the governments and individuals’ reactions the unawareness that lies behind the space sector among the population. The naïveté of individuals is at its maximum extent with a purpose: sending a clear message of realization of what surrounds us.

To demonstrate we have gotten the message, we should acknowledge, or at least be aware of what stands above us.

The human contribution in space reflects itself at most in the satellite complex, even though it’s surely not limited to it. For this purpose, an overview of this aspect will be given.

Over the past years, both the private and public sector have congested space to assert their dominance and secure the resources and opportunities that outer space presents.

As for satellites, they tend to be the most concrete assets to contribute to all aspects of modern life. Given their diversified capacities, they become of fundamental necessity in everyday life, in activities such as television broadcasting and geo-localization. But also, it deeply concerns sectors such as international diplomacy and human security. 

The core of the topic has been deeply analyzed in the “Vienna Declaration on Space and Human Development” of 1999. The Vienna Declaration listed the benefits of space resources, asserting again what can be considered a constitutional principle of outer space legislation, namely that space technology is to be used for the benefit of all nations and peoples, and that its use should be extended to developing countries. As for the sectors that would benefit from space technologies, the Declaration mentioned numerous areas. Some that deserve to be mentioned are mitigation of natural disasters, through Earth observation and by tracking depletions of natural resources, and enhanced transport security, with improved search and rescue operations and geodesy. An interesting aspect that was mentioned is the improvement of public health services through telemedicine and by monitoring infectious diseases, which might sound ironical given the recent Covid-19 pandemic.

To deepen our focus, let’s take into consideration something we are way more familiar with: weather forecasts. The impact of this service is gigantic, not only we base our day-to-day activity on weather, but entire sectors completely depend on it. Let’s think of the agricultural industry; their entire operations rely on temperature projections.

It’s common knowledge that weather forecasts are possible because of satellites’ activity, but how does the process really work?

Forecasts rely on data from satellites placed in two different types of orbit, in order to offer complementary perspectives of Earth.

These satellites are indeed placed both in geostationary orbit (around 36.000 km above the equator), and in polar orbit (a few hundred km above the surface). Satellites placed in geostationary orbit remain stationary with respect to the rotating Earth, and thus they can record and transmit continuously images of the whole hemisphere below. They provide important information on destructive weather phenomena, for instance continental-scale thunderstorm fronts and hurricanes. Whereas satellites in polar orbit fly from pole to pole around the Earth, collecting data from all over the world in few days.

Another phenomenon has to be taken into account to thoroughly widen our understanding, namely telecommunication satellites. The European Space Agency (ESA), in an introductory article, poses very curious questions when dealing with this topic. The Agency asks, “did you know that many newspapers and magazines are produced locally but printed centrally?” indeed, the content of the paper is sent to the printing plants using satellite links. This fun fact draws the attention to the centrality of these assets in daily modern life. Satellite communication indeed, is the use of satellites to provide communication links between disparate points on Earth, it obviously plays an essential role in the global telecommunications system. Over 2000 artificial satellites are now in use and positioned in various orbits. As to give a simplified insight on how satellite communication works, it has to be noted that it is made up of two main components. These are the ground segment, consisting of fixed or mobile transmission and reception, and the space segment, which consists of the satellite itself. The process follows the transmission of a signal from an Earth station to a satellite. The satellite then receives the signal, amplifies it, and transmits it back to Earth. On Earth, the signal is received and reamplified by Earth stations.

Finally, after this brief introduction on the diversity of space technology, for the purpose of this article it is fundamental to outline the legal aspects concerning the topic.

What do you do if a satellite falls on your house?

When we are dealing with the right to explore and utilize space, we surely have to deal with internationally agreed-upon legislation. As for the sources, international legislation created at sovereign state level, regulated the use of space hardware and technologies, which can be used for both military and civilian purposes.

International treaties on the matter declare that states are responsible for their space activities and for the international registration of their space objects and must accept liability for damages they cause. Of course, any national space activity must be conducted in accordance with international law, even if conducted by non-state actors such as corporations, institutions, universities, and amateurs. Consequently, national governments have a fundamental role in supervising all space activities that implicate their country on the international level.

In addition to this international framework, the matter should also be supplemented by national regulations addressing rights and responsibilities. National regulations differ between states. Some lack national legislation specific to space, while others have a full framework of national space legislation in place. Managers of small satellite projects must understand the relevant national legal framework in addition to knowing the requirements of international space law. Their activities must comply with both national and international requirements.

Nonetheless, International agreements cover more than just the launch of the satellite. Rules and guidelines also exist for the orderly allocation and use of radio frequencies. The usable portion of the electromagnetic spectrum for radio communications between satellites and ground stations is limited, so this finite natural resource must be used conscientiously and cooperatively.

Apart from all this specific legal framework, space law intertwines with our everyday life, as we said, and also stimulates our curiosity over a variety of scenarios. To put this in practice, have you ever asked yourself at least one time what would happen if a space satellite fell on earth? Many of these questions seem to be too highly hypothetical and with no answer at all. Wrong! These questions are real and reflect real phenomena of our world; furthermore, these questions are not at all open, they have answers indeed, and these answers all lie in the Space Law context.

As we all should know, on May 8, 2021, a piece of space junk from a Chinese rocket fell uncontrolled back to Earth and landed in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives. A year ago, in May 2020, another Chinese rocket met the same fate when it plummeted out of control into the waters off the West African coast. No one knew when or where either of these pieces of space junk were going to hit, so it was a relief when neither crashed on land nor injured anyone.

Space debris is any nonfunctional human-made object in space. Imagine that, instead of landing in the ocean, the recent Chinese rocket crashed into your house while you were at work. What would current law allow you to do?

According to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and 1972 Liability Convention – both adopted by the United Nations – this would be a government-to-government issue. The treaties declare that states are internationally responsible and liable for any damage caused by a spacecraft – even if the damage was caused by a private company from that state. According to these laws, your country wouldn’t even need to prove that someone had done something wrong if a space object or its component parts caused damage on the surface of the Earth or to normal aircraft in flight.

Basically, if a piece of space junk from China landed on your house, your own country’s government would make a claim for compensation through diplomatic channels and then pay you – if they chose to make the claim at all.

While it is very unlikely that a broken satellite falls on your house, the real issue is space debris, which has crashed onto land already. In 1978, the Soviet Cosmos 954 satellite fell into Canada’s Northwest Territories. When it crashed, it spread radioactive debris. A joint Canadian-American team began a cleanup effort that cost over CAD$14 million (US$11.5 million). The Canadians requested CAD$6 million from the Soviet Union, but the Soviets paid only CAD$3 million in the final settlement.

This was the first – and only – time the Liability Convention has been used when a spacecraft from one country has crashed in another. When the Liability Convention was put into use in this context, four governing norms emerged, for which countries have a duty to warn other governments about debris; provide any information they could about an impending crash; clean up any damage caused by the craft; and compensate your government for any injuries that might have resulted.

The current state of things implies that if you own a small orbiting satellite which gets hit by a piece of space junk, your government would have to prove who was at fault. In spite of this, there is no space traffic management system capable of coordinating the matter globally.

There are tens of thousands of tracked pieces of debris in orbit and multitudes of smaller, untraceable pieces.

Current space law has worked so far because the issues have been few and far between and have been dealt with diplomatically. However, the situation might change rapidly, as more and more spacecraft take flight. While launch providers, satellite operators and insurance companies care about the problem of space debris for its effect on space operations, space sustainability is a real issue has value itself and faces a much greater risk of harm than individuals on Earth.

By insisting on the facts presented just some paragraphs above, in the Cosmos 954 settlement, the Canadians claimed that since the Soviet satellite deposited hazardous radioactive debris in Canadian territory, this constituted “damage to property” within the meaning of the Liability Convention. But, as Article 2 of the Outer Space Treaty declares that no state can own outer space or celestial bodies, it is not clear whether this interpretation would apply in the event of harm to objects in space. Space is shaping up to be a new frontier on which the tragedy of the commons can play out.

Removing from orbit existing large objects that could collide with one another would be a great place for governments to start. But if the United Nations or governments agreed on laws that define legal consequences for creating space debris in the first place and punishment for not following best practices, this could help mitigate future pollution of the space environment.

Such laws would not need to be invented from scratch. The 2007 United Nations Space Debris Mitigation guidelines already address the issue of debris prevention. While some countries have transferred these guidelines into national regulations, worldwide implementation is still pending, and there are no legal consequences for noncompliance.

An overview on international satellite law and telecommunications

International satellite law is a part of international space law that addresses the operations of satellites in orbit around the Earth especially when it come to the use of satellites for telecommunications purposes, for Earth observation and remote sensing, and for positioning, timing, and navigation.

International satellite communications law, international satellite navigation law, and international remote sensing law are the dedicated legal regimes that cover these subjects.

The most important legal regimes specifically addressing satellite communications, in addition to the international space treaties discussed in the section “the international space treaties and key un resolutions on space,” are those developed thanks to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), respectively.

The history of the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization, initially known as INTELSAT (and later renamed ITSO), began in 1964 when 19 countries, including the United States, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom, decided to pool their resources in deploying a single global commercial communications satellite system and signed the Agreement Establishing Interim Arrangements for a Global Commercial Communications Satellite System.

The UN General Assembly Resolution 1721 guided. It established that communication by means of satellites should be available to the nations of the world as soon as practicable on a global and non-discriminatory basis (INTELSAT Agreement1971, Preamble). The main purpose of INTELSAT was “to continue and carry forward on a definitive basis the design, development, construction, establishment, operation and maintenance of the space segment of the global commercial telecommunications system” (INTELSAT Agreement, 1971, Art. 2).

It grew to almost 150 members and established a system of 19 satellites, with the capability of providing various satellite services (ITSO, 2019). The international organization itself continued functioning under the new acronym ITSO, and with a new mission. As a result, Intelsat’s global communications network has expanded significantly through new launches and acquisitions. Intelsat remains one of the leading global satellite communications providers.

It is clear that more and more countries from across the globe will develop vested interests towards satellites and telecommunications, which they would preferably see protected by law, and that the private sector, in particular in the more developed parts of the world, will continue to increase its share in space activities – also demanding protection of their bona fide interests by space law, international and national, at a public and a private level.

Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty places international responsibility on states for their national space activities, which includes activities of both governmental agencies and nongovernmental entities. Additionally, Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty states that space activities of nongovernmental entities shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate state. This obligation is commonly fulfilled by states by including in their domestic legislations mandatory licensing procedures and other similar requirements. Such requirements fully apply to operators, which have to obtain all the necessary licenses and authorizations, as well as comply with all other statutory requirements in order to carry out satellite telecommunications. Therefore, a state shall assure that its national space activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions of the Outer Space Treaty and can be held internationally responsible if, for example, a satellite operator under its jurisdiction fails to follow the treaty’s provisions.

According to that same Article VI, when states are parties to international intergovernmental organizations, they are also responsible for compliance with the provisions of the Outer Space Treaty of such organizations’ space activity. This is the case of the Intersputnik and the Arabsat international organizations, which member states can be held responsible for these organizations’ failure to act in conformity with the Outer Space Treaty when providing satellite telecommunications. For instance, noncompliance of one of these organizations with the applicable rules of the UN Charter may be considered a violation of Article III of the Outer Space Treaty and, consequently, lead to responsibility of its members.


Sources