Posted by Beverley Smith on


Space law is defined simply as the body of law that governs space-related activities including both international and domestic principles, agreements and rules. The main factors of the law of space are ethics, liability for damage, environmental preservation, new technologies, space exploration, weapons use, information sharing and rescue efforts. Other aspects of law including intellectual property law, commercial law, administrative law, criminal law, insurance law, arms control law, and environmental law are also incorporated into the laws of space.

Just like the general international law, the laws of space consisting of various treaties, conventions, international agreements, and United Nations General Assembly resolutions. The space laws also consist of rules and regulations of international organizations. The laws of space are often related to the principles, standards, and rules of international law that is contained in the five international treaties and five sets of principles governing outer space. These principles, standards, and rules were developed with the support of the United Nations.

There are a number basic principles guiding the conduct of space activities, including the idea that space could serve as a new habitat for humans, the principle of proper use of outer space, the freedom of space exploration, and the use of outer space by all states without discrimination.



The development of the law of space can be traced back to 1919, with international law identifying each country’s sovereignty over the airspace directly over their territory. This idea was later strengthened at the Chicago Convention in 1954. The domestic space programs were initiated during the cold war and the international space policy was also created by the International Council of Scientific Unions.

When the first satellite, Sputnik 1 was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, it directly urged the United States Congress to pass the Space Act which led to the establishment of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The space law became an independent aspect from traditional aerospace law as a result of the fact that space exploration requires crossing transnational boundaries. And also, when the Sputnik 1 was launched in 1957, the United Nations General Assembly established an ad hoc Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOUS).

A non-governmental organization, the International Institute of Space Law was established in 1960 to encourage International cooperation in the space lawmaking process.



The laws of space also contain international laws and a lot of nations have passed national space legislation in recent times. The Outer Space Treaty enables individual countries where space activities occur are in charge of maintaining the regulations of space activities, including both private and government sector. So, on the occasion that an organization incorporated in a country or national organization launches a spacecraft in another country, this law states whether the home country or the launching has jurisdiction over the launch.

By references, the Outer Space Treaty also integrates the UN Charter and requires parties to make sure that space activities are conducted in agreement with other aspects of international law like the customary international law (practices and customs of states). The introduction of commercial space activities such as space tourism, private exploration, development of several commercial spaceports and space mining has resulted in several countries considering how to implement private space activities.

These space laws are used to regulate private space activities in a way that will not obstruct or prevent investment while still making sure that these commercial space activities comply with international law. A lot of countries have updated their statutory space law recently and these countries include the United States in 2015, Japan in 2008 and Luxembourg in 2017.



The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOUS) has developed five treaties and five principles that govern several aspects of space exploration. The basic treaty is the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space which includes the Moon and other Celestial Bodies or just “Outer Space Treaty”. These treaties were all put into place sometime between the 1960s and 1970s to promote peaceful space exploration. The five treaties that have been negotiated and included in the COPUOUS include;


This is the most widely adopted treaty with 104 states. The main points of the Outer Space Treaty include;

  • Individual states are in charge of any damage their space objects cause. These individual nations are also in charge of all governmental and non-governmental space activities performed by the citizen of their nations. Toxic contamination as a result of space activities should also be avoided by the individual states.
  • Every nation is free for to engage in space activities and sovereign claims cannot be implemented. The activities performed in space should be for the benefit of all humans and no single nation has ownership of the moon.
  • Nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction are permitted in Earth’s orbit, on celestial bodies or in other outer space positions.


  1. The 1968 Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (the Rescue Agreement)

This treaty was negotiated to provide astronauts with help during an accidental landing of a spacecraft or when they have an emergency. This treaty states that if there are any accidents or emergency involving astronauts, possible actions should be taken immediately to rescue them and provide them with the necessary help.


  1. The 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (the Liability Convention)

This treaty summarizes considerations in place if a space object causes damage or loss of human life. This treaty states that the launching state will be liable to provide compensation for any damage caused by its space objects on the surface of the Earth or to aircraft flight.


  1. The 1975 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (the Registration Convention)

This treaty was negotiated to assist nations in monitoring all objects launched into outer space. This United Nation Treaty is necessary for issues like preventing space debris.


  1. The 1979 Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the Moon Treaty)

This treaty provides more details on the Outer Space Treaty for property rights and usage of the Moon and other celestial bodies in the Universe (excluding objects that enter the Earth naturally from these bodies like meteorites). However, this treaty has only been signed by 16 nations.





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  • I’m surprised somewhat to know that Space industry has it’s laws. This is educative and I’m glad I bumped on this material. Please do well to let us know when more laws are introduced.

    Cindie on
  • I had no idea that they had already created laws that pertained to space. I was just under the impression that everything out there was a free-for-all. Glad to no it’s not complete chaos.

    Jake on

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