Space Law: Meaning and Significance

In general, people have a very good understanding of what "air" and "space" are and how movement occurs in both. While wings and rotors use aerodynamic lifting surfaces, airships and balloons use aerostatic flight (airplanes, sailplanes, and helicopters). The flight paths of aeroplanes in space are determined by ballistics and orbital mechanics. There is dispute on the exact meaning of the line dividing airspace from outer space.

What is Space Law?

The corpus of rules in international law known as "space law" regulates behaviour in and around regions of space above Earth's lower atmosphere. It is defined by natural science as the region of the universe between celestial bodies, more specifically the region outside the earth's atmosphere. It becomes unclear what defines airspace and outer space.

Significance of Space Law

Space law addresses a wide range of concerns, including environmental protection in space and on Earth, liability for damage caused by space objects, the resolution of legal disputes, the rescue of astronauts, the exchange of information about potential threats in space, the use of space−related technologies, and international collaboration. A few of the fundamental concepts that direct the conduct of space operations include the notion that space is the purview of all humanity, the unrestricted freedom of exploration and use of space by all states, and the notion of non−appropriation of space.

Space Law Applications

Everything that is within the boundaries of space is subject to space law, including −

  • Remote Sensing−vegetation, mineral resources

  • Telecommunications−radio−telephone

  • Economic Planning−NRM, land use, environmental protection

  • Maritime Navigation and fisheries

  • Satellite Broadcasting

  • Military− spying military installations and troop movements

International Law

Six international agreements enacted under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) through the General Assembly's Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) comprise international law regarding space. Specific treaty clauses detail the duties due by ratifying governments as follows −

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty− The relevant treaty is the 1967 Treaty on the Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. State Parties to the Outer Space Treaty have international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and for ensuring that such activities are carried out in accordance with the Outer Space Treaty's provisions, whether such activities are carried out by governmental or non−governmental organisations (NGO) (OST).

The 1968 Rescue Agreement− The 1968 Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts, and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space is the subject of this article. The duty imposed on state parties under Article V of the OST 1967 is resolved in detail by the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts, and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space.

The 1972 Liability Convention− The 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects is the subject here. The 1972 Liability Convention has expanded and supplemented the OST's liability rules.

The 1979 Moon Agreement− The 1979 Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies is the subject of this sentence. The Moon Agreement is still the least ratified space treaty, even though it entered into force in 1984 after receiving its fifth ratification. As of June 29, 2004, ten countries had approved the agreement, with Belgium becoming the newest member. India is one of five nations that have signed the agreement, indicating their determination to fulfil their obligations under international law.

The 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty− Nuclear weapon testing in space was prohibited by the 1963 Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Under Water.

Indian Position on Space Law

India is emerging as a serious player in the international commercial space market. Important issues of control and safety, authorization, agreements and dispute resolution mechanisms for space assets need to be addressed. The laws of contract, transfer of property, stamp duty, registration, copyright and patent among other relevant statutes must be revised to bring space related issues into the domestic laws. Provisions for participation of private satellite systems are permitted but there exists no legal regime to protect the operator and the government when liability happens in the case of damage. Domestic laws presently applicable, especially intellectual property right (IPR) laws have not been revised to include space related matters. India has a comprehensive remote sensing national policy, yet no national law. The current practice would run fine as of now, but there is a need to enact a specific law.

The current practice followed need to be re−examined particularly with respect to Article 51 of the Constitution of India. It should also be noted that the national space law should not be beneficial to only one side and should be balanced according to the industry. Since, the Indian Space Programme has always been beneficial to the nation, the national space law and legal regime should also be beneficial to the country in the future.

Remote Sensing Data Policy, 2011 came into force and lifted restrictions on supply of satellite data up to 1m resolution getting clearance from the government's High Resolution Image Clearance Committee. National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) is the authority to acquire and disseminate satellite remote sensing data in India and for Indian and foreign satellites for development purposes. Government of India (GOI) has right to impose control when issues of national security and/or international obligations and/or foreign policies come into place. Implementation of the same policy in all situations (from the day of its announcement) and effectiveness (limited) arise many questions.


United Nations (UN) has been negotiating with its member countries for a holistic, comprehensive space treaty that would take care of a number of emerging issues involved in space exploration. The plan to set up launch vehicle and spacecraft building facilities would be permitted to go in for 100% FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) can be useful. A holistic space act is also a necessity for India since India has been making all out efforts to exploit space technology to drive a range of developmental and governance activities in the country.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. When did the concept of space law first emerge?

Home Space Regulation− A number of statutes, including the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act (NASA Act), which was enacted on July 29, 1958, serve as the foundation for U.S. space law.

Q. Why does India require a space law?

The growing space activities and India's obligations and liabilities under the international space treaties has been ratified collectively give rise to the necessity for national space legislation.

Q. Is there space legislation in India?

India ratified the Outer Space Treaty in 1982 despite having signed the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, in 1967.

Q. Who has control over space law?

Space is available for use and exploration by all states equally. However, such use must adhere to international law, notably the United Nations Charter, which forbids the use of force or the threat of using force against other states (Article 2(4)).

Q. Who did first explore the space?

The Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to travel into space on April 12, 1961, after travelling for 108 minutes in a single circle of the planet.

Q. How many laws govern space?

The United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (CUPOS) is in charge of enforcing five international treaties that form the basis of space law (UNCOPUOS) governance.