Regulating the Final Frontier: As Commercial Endeavors Enter Space, International Law Must Expand as Well

By von der Dunk, Frans | The Futurist, September-October 2012 | Go to article overview

Regulating the Final Frontier: As Commercial Endeavors Enter Space, International Law Must Expand as Well


von der Dunk, Frans, The Futurist


Space is a "global commons," and its direct exploration has always been an international undertaking, subject to international treaties. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty--which forms the basis of relevant law regarding activities in space and is agreed to by all major spacefaring nations--addresses only scientific pursuits and military and strategic operations.

Applicable international space law is mum on the subject of private enterprise. Issues such as ownership of celestial property, resource extraction and land development, and even liability in the event of injury or financial loss are not addressed for commercial operations in space. Until that gap is patched, the international legal validity of private operations in space will remain precarious. Several key nations, including the United States, have national space laws in place that handle some of the above key aspects.

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With the advent of space tourism and companies announcing plans to prospect asteroids for resources, these gaps in the current legal framework concerning space are becoming more pressing. To protect the interests of private enterprises, nations, and Earth itself, space law must adapt from vague international treaties and individual domestic regulations to include a broader focus that involves spacefaring nations and commercial markets that are--or may become--active in space.

Because the Outer Space Treaty and others that form the legal framework for operations beyond Earth's atmosphere do not explicitly mention commercial activity, those endeavors don't have any of the protections that earthly businesses have, particularly trade secret protection, land ownership rights, and insurances against liability.

For example, Planetary Resources is a new company that recently proposed space prospecting to discover and exploit rich mineral deposits on asteroids. In space, however, the law doesn't protect against a rival firm using the company's prospecting information and mining the resources first. Also, injury to space travelers on one of the many new space tourism aircrafts is not covered under international space liability law. …

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Regulating the Final Frontier: As Commercial Endeavors Enter Space, International Law Must Expand as Well
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