The cradle of any civilized society is its laws. Laws have evolved alongside
technological advancements. In today's world, space has become a buzzword.
Numerous organizations are vying for a presence in space, both public and
private. In such a scenario, space must be regulated, not only internationally
but also domestically, to ensure that all activities that occur there are
regulated. International law exists, but it is insufficient.
When it comes to
space, India lacks a solid legal framework. Policies alone will not suffice; a
comprehensive legal framework is required. Legislation must be cautious, and it
must be well prepared to deal with situations that will arise as a result of the
changing paradigm of space use. The rate at which developments are occurring is
increasing and will continue to accelerate in the future. The legal developments
have been excruciatingly slow to catch up, with the Draft Space Activities Bill
under consideration since 2017.
The absence of legislation can cause a slew of
issues. As the private sector's involvement grows, it becomes increasingly
difficult to defend national interests. Therefore, it would be advantageous to
establish legal frameworks as soon as possible so that law can begin to evolve.
History Of Space Laws
The concept of space law had been mentioned in journals and academic writings in
the early 20th century which became well known coming to the middle 20th
century. Before 1957 discussions were going on as to what should be the
sovereign limits of countries to the space above them, but no tangible
developments occurred. The pedestal for the space laws was set up and not the
space laws. The status quo underwent a shift after the launch of the satellites
by the USSR (1957) and the US (1958).
After these developments both the
superpowers were interested in making clear space laws. The year 1959 saw the
creation of a permanent outer space committee to maintain the UN charter and
international law. In 1963, it came up with a resolution that banned nuclear
tests in outer space and the UNGA passed a declaration fixing responsibility for
international law transgressions.
Thereafter, The Outer Space Treaty 1967 was
signed by 63 UN participant nations to safeguard all the astronauts in difficult
circumstances. Also, in 1998, the ISS agreement was signed between Canada,
Japan, Russian Federation, and the United States for civil cooperation on the
international space station.
United NationsThe UN started taking active steps for the maintenance of the peaceful use of
outer space from the year 1957. Resolutions for prohibiting the use of space for
military purposes and weapons of mass destruction were also considered. The UN
has five main treaties:
- The Outer space treaty
- The rescue agreement
- The liability convention
- The registration convention
- The moon agreement
Committee On Peaceful Use Of Outer Space (Copous)It was set up by UNGA in 1959. It is the sole committee dealing exclusively with
matters related to the peaceful uses of outer space. The mandate of the
committee is to strengthen the international framework of space law. The
committee is also tasked with helping nations and the UN bodies to effectively
use space technology.
United Nations Office For Outer Space Affairs(UNOOSA)This office was made to ensure international cooperation on space achievement of
sustainable technological and economic goals. It also helps developing countries
to use space technology to ensure that they can integrate space capabilities
into national development programs.
- The office assists members in making a regulatory framework.
- The office also maintains a registry of the objects launched in space.
- The office Fosters solutions to international risks like space debris.
- The office is important in the problems of international stature like
near-earth object impact and the development of Global navigational
United States The beginning of space law in the US was with the passage of the 1958
National Aeronautics and Space Act (NASA Act). The act created the National
Aeronautics and space administration. NASA was the start of the civilian
space program of the United States. The United States has numerous space
laws clubbed under title 51 of the United States Code namely:
- Commercial space launch act
- Land remote sensing policy act
- Commercial space act
- National Aeronautics and space and administration Authorisation act, 2005
- National Aeronautics and space and administration Authorisation act, 2008
- National Aeronautics and space and administration Authorisation act, 2010
- Spurring private aerospace competitiveness and entrepreneurship (SPACE)
- NASA Transition authorization act
- National Defense authorization act
United KingdomThe UK has signed 4 out of the 5 core space treaties. It has not signed the moon
treaty. Questions may be asked as to why, the United Kingdom, a nation that can
be considered a failure comparatively for its space program is being discussed
here, it is because even though the United Kingdom has a weak space program it
has a robust system of laws. Before the Space industry act, 2018 was introduced
space activities in the United Kingdom were governed mainly by the Outer Space
Outer Space ActThis act came into force in 1989. It empowered the Secretary of the state to
issue licenses for the applicant launching and other space activities which have
a relation with the UK[i]. If an individual or organization wants to conduct any
space-related activity it has to apply for a license[ii]. The applicant has to
take a minimum of Euro 100 million insurance for launching also the launch
operator is also obliged to compensate the UK government in case of any. The
outer space act also fixes responsibility and liability for space activities.
There is also a provision for registration of the objects launched into space
from the UK mentioned in the act with the procedure of registering the object
with the secretary of state[iii].
Space Industry Act, 2018 This act was mainly to create a framework for commercial launches to take
place from 2020 onwards. This legislation provided a framework for
commercial spaceflight operations. Features of the Space industry act:
- Provisions on insurance [iv]
- Indemnification requirement for the operators [v]
- Limit of operator liability [vi]
- The orbital operations will follow the limit set out in the previous
Indian Scenario India, one of the best-performing nations in terms of space, is critically
lacking a legal framework around the activities undertaken in space; the
existing framework to is made up of policies and not law. Following are some
policies on the subject:
Satellite Communications Policy (Satcom), 2000The policy broadly falls under three categories:
- Use of INSAT capabilities by the private sector: INSAT capabilities were
allocated to the department of telecommunication, Doordarshan, and all India
radio through a committee (ICC). It was the work of the ICC to designate a
certain INSAT capacity for the private sector.
- Operation and establishment of Indian satellite systems: The companies
registered in India with less than 74% foreign investment were allowed to
establish and operate satellite systems. The orbit-spectrum requirements of
private Indian companies would be represented by the wireless Planning and
Coordination (WPC) wing of the ministry of communications in the international
- Use of satellites from foreign nations for Satcom services: The use of
foreign satellites is only allowed in special cases until India is not ready to
provide the services.
Remote Sensing Data Policy, 2011The policy majorly made permission/license necessary from the government. It
made the government the sole and exclusive owner of all data collected/received
from the Indian Regional Satellite (IRS) program. The licensees are given only
the right to use the data and add value to the satellite data. The government is
given the sole right to regulate imaging tasks and regulations on the issues of
national security or international law. It is upon the government to decide who
will acquire/ distribute satellite remote sensing data. The Department of Space
was given the right to decide the process of granting of a license for the
dissemination of the data and for the levy of the necessary fees.
Draft Space-Related Policies
Policies And Not Law
- Spacecom Policy,2020
- SpaceRS Policy,2020
- SpaceRS NGP, 2020
The policy is a plan of action i.e. if the government brings out any policy that
means it makes clear its plan of action. Law on the other hand is a set of rules
which are duly passed by the parliament. Policies are just pieces of document
while the law is a binding force, one can take the government into court if the
government or any person violates the law. Hence laws are more authoritative.
India has no space law at present although a bill has been under consideration
Draft Space Activities Bill, 2017
A legal framework on Space was always required not only because the private
sector is coming up but because the private sector is needed, as it fosters
greater development and innovation, the development cannot be sustained if there
are no legal safeguards. Therefore, the said bill was drafted back in 2017 and
is still pending before the parliament.
It is a bill proposed to facilitate and
regulate India's space activities. It encourages private sector organizations to
participate in space activities in India under the guidance and authorization of
the government of India's Department of Space.
Some Features Of The Draft Bill Are As Follows:
- Application- It will apply to every citizen of the country.
- Licensing- The central government would provide a non-transferable
- Registration- A register of all the space objects will be maintained by
- Support- The government will provide technical and professional support
for commercial space activities.
- Safety- ensuring safety requirements and supervision of the conduct of
every space activity
- Investigation- the bill also ensures that investigation of every
accident occurring in connection with any space activity.
- Detail sharing- Sharing details about the pricing of the products
created by space activity and technology with agencies and persons.
- Punishment- Doing the following activities may entail a punishment with
jail for up to 3 years or a fine of more than INR one crore or both:
- unauthorized space activity
- furnishing false information or documents
- causing environmental damage
- entry into prohibited areas
- disclosure of restricted information
- IPR protection- The Law contains provisions for the protection of intellectual
property rights created through space activity.
The bill has a lot of positive aspects, but it falls short in some crucial
areas. Although the purpose of the legislation is to support and encourage
private commercial space activities, it appears to accomplish little in this
regard due to certain reasons like its harsh penal provisions.
exercises a great deal of control over private enterprises which is not
favorable for them. Along with this, there is a lot of talk about private sector
regulation but very little about government transparency; both of these factors,
when combined, will be a major deterrent to private sector development in the
The government must understand that transparency regulation and control should
not be excessive especially when there is low transparency. A very stringent
regime of controls would only enervate the private sector. Hence, corrective
measures in this aspect are required.
Eventually, as technology advances, new fields will be discovered, necessitating
the need to regulate and control them. One such field in the modern world is
space. The study of different nations' legal frameworks has revealed that the
need of the hour is a comprehensive framework that defines space laws.
though their space program lags far behind India's, some countries are far ahead
of India in terms of their legal framework for space-related activities.
Therefore, for the space industry to flourish and grow exponentially, the need
of the hour is to have a comprehensive and well-thought-out law that not only
meets the needs of the present but also has the potential to lead to greater
development in the future.
- Outer space act 1986, s 3.
- Outer space act 1986, s 3.
- Outer space act 1986, s 7.
- Space Industry Act 2018, s 38.
- Space Industry Act 2018, s 34, 36.
- Space Industry Act 2018, s 12(2).