DOI: 10.5553/IISL/2020063006006

International Institute of Space LawAccess_open


New Space Law Created to Enable Space Innovation While Preserving the RF Environment in Space

Notable Outcomes of the ITU’s 2019 World Radio Conference

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    Suddenly, Low Earth Orbit is becoming increasingly crowded at an accelerating pace. As the first “megaconstellations” of hundreds and thousands of small communications satellites are being launched into new constellations, there are also a growing number of smaller satellites being launched by newly space-faring nations as well as non-profit institutions. In both cases, there is an urgent need for appropriate global and national legal/regulatory frameworks to support and govern these innovations within the bounds of the Outer Space Treaty. One venerable regulatory institution is addressing these challenges: the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The ITU’s ongoing activities to incrementally prepare a basis in international law to both encourage and regulate these new space innovations quietly establishes a proven model for the world to follow. In 2019, the ITU and its members gathered for its quadrennial treaty conference, the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19), to address, among other items, how to handle the filings for new very large non-geostationary satellite constellations and the growing number of cubesats, which are often launched without adherence to the ITU’s Radio Regulations, a treaty instrument on access to radiofrequency spectrum and the orbits. This paper examines how the ITU develops a legal framework to balance the encouragement of innovative space services whilst ensuring that existing international legal norms are observed. In particular, it will provide insights the innovative results achieved by WRC-19. The ITU’s longstanding history of successfully facilitating new space technologies is remarkable and offers an often overlooked model for other institutions for adopting space law.

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