Outer Space Law
Outer space law is a branch of the public international law, which governs States’ activities in the outer Space.
The cornerstone of the outer space law is the UN Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which lays down principles applicable to the legal status of the outer space, States’ responsibilities for national space activities and the provisions governing liability for damage caused by space objects launched by States. Some of the fundamental concepts such as the definition of the outer space and the legal status of the natural resources of the celestial bodies is not regulated in the Outer space treaty. The four other UN conventions (Liability Convention, Rescue and Return of Astronauts, Registration Convention and the Moon Treaty) develop these rules further.
The contemporary space sector raises new legal challenges, which had not been foreseen at the time the space treaties were adopted. Many of these challenges require further elaboration of the space law rules. Importantly, private actors (companies and natural persons) increasingly get involved in the development and performance of space launches and operation of satellites. States are responsible for national space activities of non-governmental entities and may, arguably, face compensation claims in case private space launches cause damage to persons and property on Earth and airspace, and in the outer space. This requires that national laws adequately address the questions of authorization and supervision of space activities as well as provide for workable rules on compensation and insurance.
Outer space law also attempts to regulate the environmental dimension of space activities, including the issue of space debris. International environmental law also applies to space activities producing harmful impact on the Earth environment.
The outer space law is not confined within the domain of public international law. To the contrary, national law regulates space activities by the private actors, for example, by setting up licensing/concessions, provisions on tort and insurance law, and by contract law (including allocation of liabilities between the participants of space projects). Private international laws apply to determine the choice of law and forum in case claims are brought for compensation of damages caused by space launches.