One of the most common questions we answer from claimants over time, all fall under the topic we like to collectively call 'space law.' Space law has been around for a long time actually, and nation states have been cooperating with regard to space activities via treaties and agreements forged at the United Nations for decades. A number of treaties and agreements are currently active, and these will be the foundation for future space law, which will surely have to grow over time as space mining becomes a ever more present reality.
In this section we seek to provide a review of currently active space law agreements, as well as contact information and synopsis detailing the professionals and legal firms that practice space law, so that you the claimant can decide for yourself how to best defend and exercise your own space resource claims. The title of each entry is usually a link to an official web page related to the topic.
1967 - The Outer Space Treaty - aka The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. This is the very first treaty signed by the nations of the world, of which a great majority are signatory or party to the treaty. Born in the Cold War era, it became clear that as the US and Russia were sending assets into space, common legal understandings about circumstances in space had to be ironed out. True to the tense times, the majority of the treaty involves prohibiting sending weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, into space. It also stipulates that space is open to all states to explore, that states are liable to the damages on earth that their exploration causes, and that states will avoid polluting space. While the language of the treaty does not iron out commercial actions in space, this foundational agreement does open the door to it.
1967 - The Rescue Agreement - aka Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space. In a similar vein to the Outer Space Treaty, this agreement is meant to establish rules of conduct in space exploration among nations. Specifically, the agreement covers the rescue of space explorers in the event of a crash landing on earth, and stipulates that all members of the agreement will do everything in their power to save a downed space explorer from any country a part of the treaty.
1972 - The Space Liability Convention - aka Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects. This treaty is also something of an addendum to the original Outer Space Treaty, which seeks to better clarify the liabilities of member states with regard to crashed space assets. As a matter of fact, the nation of Canada exercised its rights under this treaty when the Russian nuclear powered satellite Kosmos 594 crashed in its territory.
1974 - The Registration Convention - aka Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space. During the Cold War, as the race to space heated up considerably, more and more satellites were being put into orbit. It became clear that an understanding on who had what in which orbit was an important consideration - quite similar to how the WSMCR oversees the claims of space recourses - and so a registry of objects in orbit was created at the UN. Today if a nation (or now company), means to send an object into orbit, it must register the name and registration number of the craft, the date and launch point, orbital parameters and function of the craft. Despite this agreement, only 88% of objects in orbit have actually been registered. You can find a list of registered objects at the UNOOSA web site.
1979 - The Moon Treaty - aka Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. The Moon Treaty is especially important in the world of space law, because it is the world's first attempt to establish legal code regarding the exploitation and use of space resources. In fact it can be seen as a predecessor of the SPACE Act. Up to this point, these space law treaties were signed by a great many nations of the world, but for the first time with the Moon Treaty, the major nations of the world did not sign on and only a handful of nations have actually ratified this treaty. The reasons for the lack of participation in this treaty probably mostly boil down to competition, but it is true that the exact language of the treaty additionally makes it difficult to delineate what exactly is permissible. Additional restrictions on military use and limitations on the use of space resources also contributed to the failure of wide acceptance of this treaty.
1998 - The Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement - The last true international space law agreement is the international space station agreement between nations, which was a great leap forward in national cooperation in space. The nations of Canada, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are all contributors to the operations and maintenance of the ISS.
2015 - The SPACE Act - While the SPACE Act is technically a national law in the United States, being the leading nation with the best shot at asteroid mining, it gives the law a greater impact and consequence for all nations. In fact the SPACE Act is foundational to the WSMCR, and we even have our own section devoted to it. The SPACE Act is critical to asteroid mining and commercial enterprises in space because it specifically outlines the right to claim these resources and profit from them by individuals and companies. Now, many other countries are seeking to create similar laws in their own countries to be able to do the same. We suspect that eventually so many nations will be making the same law that the Moon Treaty will be dusted off and restarted, or perhaps a new treaty drafted in its place which creates an international law with the same provisions.
IMAGE CREDIT: NASA