International Institute of Space Law

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Issue 3, 2022 Expand all abstracts

    The issue of biological contamination in space exploration has highlighted the relevance of addressing the ethical and legal responsibilities entailed in exploring previously undisturbed regions of space, especially those which have the potential to harbor life. While the scientific importance of space exploration means that the introduction of spacecraft into otherwise undisturbed environments is a necessity, the extent to which environmental disruption can be considered a responsible use of a shared space, has not been consistently identified in the scientific or legal literature. This paper discusses some of the key legal and ethical issues concerning the responsible use of space from an astrobiological and planetary protection perspective, as well as proffering recommendations as to how international space law can create more effective ethical responsibility and liability standards regarding the biological integrity of space-based environments.

Caitlyn A.K. Singam
University of Maryland.

Access_open International Responsibility to Protect Freedom of Outer Space Exploration versus Freedom of Use of Outer Space

Keywords Astronomy, LEO mega-constellations, freedom of exploration and use of outer space, balancing rights, international responsibility for outer space activities
Authors Merve Erdem Burger
AbstractAuthor's information

    This study examines how the enjoyment of freedom of use affects the enjoyment of freedom of exploration in space, using the harmful interference of the LEO mega constellations in astronomical science as an example. Furthermore, the study seeks to address this interference through the implementation of Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty. The main question of the study is therefore whether states have an international responsibility to protect freedom of exploration over freedom of use. To answer this question, I first determine whether one of the freedoms should take precedence over the other. Second, I propose balancing these freedoms against each other, a concept of constitutional law, and to give more weight to one than the other to address the problem at hand. Following the examination, I conclude that states have an international responsibility to protect astronomical activities from the effects of LEO mega constellations, and that they are therefore obligated to establish the necessary domestic legal regimes to provide this protection.

Merve Erdem Burger
University of Neuchâtel, Faculty of Law, Chair of International Law.

P.J. Blount
Lecturer in Law, Cardiff University.

    Satellite mega-constellations are becoming very popular. Nevertheless, their deployment entails the potential to negatively impact the pristine view of the night sky and - by extension - to hamper ground-based astronomical observations. This paper evaluates the applicability of existing legal instruments towards achieving greater protection of space sciences vis-a-vis commercial space activities. Firstly, it examines whether the term “space activities” can be interpreted so as to include ground-based astronomy, in an effort to understand how different needs and the freedoms of exploration and use of Outer Space (OS) can be best balanced. Furthermore, the paper reviews the application of environmental law principles and discusses the obligation of States to conduct EIAs in order to minimize light pollution and protect the Dark and Quiet Skies under the “due regard” principle of Article IX OST. Finally, this paper discusses pragmatic proposals towards the preservation of the space environment and the sustainability of space activities.

Panagiota Brouma
LLB Law, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Akadimias 47, Athens 10672.

Theodora Liameti
Trainee Lawyer, LLM Candidate International & European Law, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Akadimias 47, Athens 10672, Greece & M2 Space Communication and Media Law, University of Luxembourg.

    From professional to amateur astronomers, the dark skies represent a window to the universe. Whether from our backyards or millions of miles into the expanse, the distant lights that astronomers observe represent the next frontier of human exploration. However, a newer inhabitant of our space backyard threatens this muchneeded future: satellite megaconstellations. This paper explores the notion of law and ethics as it applies to the use of satellite megaconstellations. The goal is to discover how space law may offer guidance and educate satellite operators while identifying possible solutions.

Roy Balleste
Stetson University College of Law.

Access_open Mega-Constellations of Satellites and their Impact on Astronomy

Exploring the Role of Article IX of the Outer Space Treaty

Authors Rafael Moro-Aguilar

    The activity of designing and launching into low earth orbits (LEO) large constellations of satellites (sometimes known as mega-constellations) is posing a number of challenges to the sustainability of outer space. One significant challenge has turned out to be the visual impact that huge numbers of satellites placed in LEO is having on the Earth’s night sky. The present paper analyzes this problem from the point of view of Space Law, and more specifically, by exploring the potential role of Article IX of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. The main question is whether this provision and its corresponding obligations of due regard, preventing harmful interference, and engaging in consultations can be applicable also vis-à-vis activities that are not space activities proper (such as ground-based astronomy) yet nonetheless are directly related to and affected by activities carried out in outer space. In order to answer that question, the origin of Article IX is reviewed, particularly considering its direct predecessor, Principle 6 of the Declaration of Principles adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1963. Since the origin of Principle 6 (and therefore, of Article IX) can be traced back to the effects on both space and earth of West Ford and other large-scale experiments carried out in LEO in the early 1960s, the conclusion is that Article IX does apply and protects terrestrial activities such as ground-based astronomy that are affected by activities conducted in outer space.

Rafael Moro-Aguilar

    The imminent return to the Moon by multiple space agencies and commercial companies has spurred astronomers to reconsider the Moon as a site for ambitious telescopes. There are several concepts that use the rare properties of special sites on the Moon to undertake astronomical observations not possible elsewhere. These include the well-known radio quiet zone of the lunar farside, the coldest cold traps for far-IR telescopes, and large permanently shadowed regions for cryogenic gravitational wave detectors. For each application there are surprisingly few of these “sites of extraordinary scientific importance.” A first inventory of them is given here. Because these sites are easily degraded by other activities, they will need protection against other uses if the discovery potential they enable is to be kept for humanity. Initial policy approaches to achieve this protection when involving multiple parties are outlined.

Martin Elvis
Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.