Space is more than billionaires vying for bragging rights. It will have ramifications on governments, economies and humanity.
We are captivated by the wonders and possibilities of space as a species. From the Australian Aboriginal Astronomers who date back 65,000 years to Galileo’s telescopes, all of it is fascinating. In the 60-plus years since then, we have also explored space and used it.
Since 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, I, our fascination has grown from a spiritual, cultural, and scientific curiosity to multifaceted. Space-related technologies have revolutionized our lives by revolutionizing communication, medicine, navigation and finance, as well as agriculture, computing, and agriculture. Space now includes critical infrastructure to support humanity’s future through science, the global economy, international trade, investment, strategic thinking, and national safety.
Space plays an essential role in humanity’s lives. Therefore, it must be managed so that it is safe, stable, and sustainable for future generations.
As wealthy entrepreneurs seek to become “space tourists”, we are moving into a time when space exploration will not only involve governments but also the business sector. These new actors will be demanding ‘enabling’ rules for the space road. They’ll demand strong government support and minimal government interference.
Legally speaking, outer space is considered to be an area that is beyond national jurisdiction. This means that claims of sovereignty are not applicable.
International air law dictates that every country has control over the airspace above their territory. This includes who can enter and for what purpose. These laws do not apply to outer space. It is still unclear when airspace becomes space. The United Nations Outer Space Treaty currently does not define the lower limits of space, while air law does not specify its upper limits. Despite multilateral discussion for many years about the “definition of outer space” and its delimitation, the question has become a more political than a legal issue. It is possible that the major space-faring countries are unwilling to agree to an altitude below the limit of which they would violate the sovereignty of other nations. This may explain why it has not been possible to clarify “which law applies where”. The ‘grey zone’ gives them greater freedoms to carry out activities in’space,’ without being penalized for violating international law. These same countries don’t see any benefit in legalizing a boundary that would limit their sovereignty.
Although these definitions are what space tourists entrepreneurs call them, they are a minor distraction from a larger context. The Outer Space Treaty has been the foundation of human activity in space since 1967. It has guaranteed that there has never been a military conflict in space. It also requires that exploration and use of space must be “for the benefit of all countries”. Even as space becomes more complex, this legal foundation has served us well.
However, a business as usual approach to space may not be sufficient. The growing proliferation of space junk poses a threat to our immediate security. Other significant challenges include militarization in space, geopolitical tensions (lack of a global traffic management system), the difficulties in establishing an economic case for complex space activities and the physical limitations of human bodies.
The private sector is also booming in space. The value of the commercial space sector has exceeded the government space sector since 1998 – something that took less than a decade. The global commercial sector was valued at US$370billion in 2021. This is an estimated six percent annualized growth in 2020. The commercial space market is expected to reach US$1 trillion to US$3 trillion by 2040.
Many countries continue to expand their sovereign space capabilities by partnering with the private sector. Space is a vital two-way street for these countries.
Without appropriate guidelines and regulations, new activities in space could be more risky. This could have devastating consequences for humanity. Space’s foundational principles are not always in line with commercial actors’ needs. They mainly weigh risk and reward when investing in space.
More – rather than less – governance of space activities will be needed. This regulation must be carefully considered. Space is an unique environment. While there may be lessons from other ‘frontier’ areas such as Antarctica, the deep seabed and the deep ocean floor, regulations for space must reflect its unique characteristics.
While governments might be bound to the international space law principles, others will seek to encourage private and business involvement in space. This will benefit their industry, their domestic economy, and their technological competitiveness. These competing factors will be carefully balanced by the governments when they create their national space regulations.
This will require that you ask difficult questions. How should the societal and community impacts of our march to space be measured? What legal and regulatory systems are best to protect society’s broader interests without restricting future space activities development? What are the ‘appropriate space activities? If we want to avoid a tragedy of the commons in space, it is important to adhere to the principles that encourage peaceful uses of space.
Law will continue to play an important role. Lawyers cannot do this alone.
A potential for increased technology transfer is possible when countries increase their sovereign space capabilities. Increased capital and know-how exchange will increase understanding of space responsibility, which will bring benefits to the global community. This creates benefits for civil and commercial sectors that require stable space environments.
It will be difficult to find a common path forward. However, the existing international regulatory framework will need further enhancement to keep up with the increasing complexity of space activities. It is imperative that governments, industry and scientists, entrepreneurs, as well civil society, work together. We will achieve the best possible outcome for everyone by focusing our underlying thinking, and the language of space, towards activities that increase capabilities and promote peace and sustainable development.
(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff. It is generated automatically from a syndicated feed.