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 12: Legal aspects of private manned spaceflight

Frans von der Dunk

Subjects: law - academic, public international law


The two most visible and revolutionary events in the past two decades in terms of space activities highly relevant for space law no doubt were the orbital flight of Dennis Tito, the first space tourist, on board the ISS in 2001, and the sub-orbital flights of Scale Composites’ SpaceShipOne in 2004 winning the Ansari X-Prize, triggering several projects about to send space tourists by the hundreds into the lower areas of outer space anytime soon. These events also triggered a major discussion on the possible desirability or need to overhaul the current space law regime or at least to fundamentally adapt it to the impending realities of private manned spaceflight. These discussions have already led to adaptations in the legal regime applicable to the ISS to accommodate, respectively, further orbital tourists and amendments to the US Commercial Space Launch Act handling the building of commercial spaceports for sub-orbital flights as well as such flights themselves. Most of the discussions have focused so far on liability and certification issues, borrowing essentially from existing space law but also from air law and high-adventure tourism law, as well as on the status of astronauts and (other) spaceflight participants. With plans to start offering similar sub-orbital flights from various places around the world, moreover, the above legal questions obtain a distinctly international flavour as well, ranging from discussions in the aviation sector (the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, and the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA) on adapting aircraft certification processes to discussions in the space sector (the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, UN COPUOS) on the risk of ‘flags of convenience’.

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