International Institute of Space Law

Article

Disputes in Satellite Communications: Settlement Mechanisms Available for Breach of Coordination Agreements

Authors Elina Morozova en Yaroslav Vasyanin
Author's information

Elina Morozova
E. Morozova, Head of International Legal Service, Intersputnik International Organization of Space Communications.

Yaroslav Vasyanin
Y. Vasyanin, Legal Counsel, International Legal Service, Intersputnik International Organization of Space Communications.
  • Abstract

      Among the numerous space activities, satellite communications remain the most widespread, essential, and advanced. To perform a communication function, satellites need to be placed in orbit and use the radio-frequency spectrum. Such limited natural resources, which require rational, equitable, efficient, and economical use in an interference-free environment, are managed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
      Before a new satellite or a satellite network is brought into use, the relevant operator carries out coordination with other operators which utilize satellite networks in the adjacent orbital locations. The results of the coordination procedure are then reflected in coordination agreements. Though coordination may last for years, the difficulty is not so much the conclusion of an agreement as its due performance and enforcement.
      Coordination agreements generally contain mutually acceptable technical parameters for the operation of certain frequencies and their breach may cause harmful interference toward communications satellites. At the request of administrations, the ITU carries out investigations of harmful interference and formulates recommendations. Although such a process has a few drawbacks, complete disregard for the content of coordination agreements makes it totally meaningless.
      If the ITU’s recommendations cannot satisfy the parties or are not duly followed, or if damage was caused by harmful interference and requires compensation, a judicial recourse seems inevitable. As disputes may involve parties around the globe, to which court should they apply? Commonly drafted by technical experts, coordination agreements hardly provide for a dispute resolution mechanism or governing law, while the application of general rules may bring parties to an exotic jurisdiction equally irrelevant to both. Whatever court is chosen, the question of specific knowledge arises. However, the ITU’s practice has always been not to get involved in disputes.
      Therefore, disputes related to coordination agreements pose legal challenges. Where to adjudicate the case and what law to apply are just the tip of the iceberg, while the major question of whether there is a need for a specialized court remains significant. This field of space activities apparently requires legal advice.

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