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 13: Environmental aspects of space activities

Lotta Viikari

Subjects: law - academic, public international law


The environmental aspects of space activities and space law increasingly are being given attention as representing one of the most important future areas which, also in the legal context, will have to be addressed to guarantee sustainable use of outer space for the benefit of mankind. Within this broader issue, the ever increasing use of outer space, the issue of ‘space debris’ has become ever more important. Several space-object-to-space-object collisions have already occurred, most of them in recent years (the 2007 Chinese ASAT test; the 2008 US shooting down of the defunct USA-193 satellite; the 2009 Iridium-Cosmos collision); and the occurrence of smaller parts and pieces colliding with and sometimes damaging operational spacecraft is rapidly becoming more frequent as well. In the absence of any specific, clear and binding rules in the space treaties, the legal efforts to address space debris have so far largely focused, on the one hand, on using the traditional concepts of liability as per the 1972 Liability Convention and registration for purposes of identifying the liable state(s) as per the 1975 Registration Convention to make space operators ever more aware and careful. Problems have arisen, however, such as regards the element of ‘fault’ in regard to liability for damage caused by a piece of uncontrollable space junk or the proper extent of the rather vague provisions of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty on environmentally responsible behaviour in outer space. On the other hand, efforts have been made to draft new regimes, addressing in particular the mitigation of the generation of new space debris. Examples of the latter are the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) which has drafted guidelines on how to minimise the generation of new space debris and the transformation of many of those guidelines on the national level into binding requirements for obtaining a space licence.

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