Handbook of Space Law

Handbook of Space Law

Research Handbooks in International Law series

Edited by Frans von der Dunk

Handbook of Space Law addresses the legal and regulatory aspects of activities in outer space and major space applications from a comprehensive and structured perspective. The book fundamentally addresses the dichotomy between the state-oriented character of international space law and the increasing commercialization and privatization of space activities.

Chapter 2: International space law

Frans von der Dunk

Subjects: law - academic, public international law


Chapter 2 focuses on the original core of international space law, a branch of general public international law directly and forcefully addressing mankind’s activities in outer space, in a throughout rather general fashion. That core consists in particular of a handful of UN-originating treaties of general scope (the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the 1968 Rescue Agreement, the 1972 Liability Convention, the 1975 Registration Convention and the 1979 Moon Agreement), UN Resolutions (such as those concerning direct broadcasting by satellite, satellite remote sensing and the use of nuclear power sources in outer space), and other essentially UN-derived legal developments (such as the discussions regarding the status, delimitation and definition of outer space and the geostationary orbit respectively, as well as on the proper role of national space laws in that context). Due to the overarching character of this core regime, essentially all human activities in outer space, whether effectively conducted from earth or involving presence of humans in outer space, are implicated in a principled and legal sense by whatever applicable rules, rights and obligations it may provide. Whilst this does not hold true in many respects for the Moon Agreement and some of the UN Resolutions, as they precisely address only a specific sub-set of legal aspects of space activities and are of somewhat limited legal relevance as compared to the other treaties adopted widely, the fact that they stem from the same global decision- and law-making process warrants that they be treated at least to some extent also in the present chapter. At the same time, following major developments in the space sector in the course of the last half century, many general treaties and customary rules of international law will also have to be assessed briefly as to their general role and place within that context – whilst the most relevant of those will in addition be discussed in other chapters in this book. As a consequence of the said developments also the role of the United Nations, as given shape in particular through the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and its Legal Sub-Committee – the sole bodies with quasi-comprehensive membership of states fundamentally interested in space activities – plays a major role, although its pivotal importance at the same time is increasingly under pressure from other fora.

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