space law

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space law,

agreements governing the exploration and use of outer space, developed since the first launching (1957) by humans of a satellite into space. Space law, an aspect of international lawinternational law,
body of rules considered legally binding in the relations between national states, also known as the law of nations. It is sometimes called public international law in contrast to private international law (or conflict of laws), which regulates private legal
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, has grown under the aegis of the United Nations. A 1963 UN declaration stated that the exploration and use of outer space would be for the benefit and in the interest of all people; that no sovereigntysovereignty,
supreme authority in a political community. The concept of sovereignty has had a long history of development, and it may be said that every political theorist since Plato has dealt with the notion in some manner, although not always explicitly.
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 could be claimed in space; that objects and persons launched into space would be returned promptly and safely if they landed in a foreign country; and that nations launching objects would be responsible for damages caused by them. In 1967, a general treaty embodying these principles and adding a prohibition on the military use of space and a provision for the inspection of installations on celestial bodies went into effect. A UN treaty on use of the moon's resources was drafted in 1979. The boundary between airspace (see air, law of theair, law of the,
in the broadest sense, all law connected with the use of the air, including radio and satellite transmissions; more commonly, it refers to laws concerning civil aviation.
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), which is subject to sovereignty, and outer space remains an object of discussion. Some favor definitions based on the composition of the atmosphereatmosphere
[Gr.,=sphere of air], the mixture of gases surrounding a celestial body with sufficient gravity to maintain it. Although some details about the atmospheres of other planets and satellites are known, only the earth's atmosphere has been well studied, the science of
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. Others favor a functional approach; thus, if commercial airlines use a particular layer of the atmosphere, it is to be considered airspace.

Space Law


the norms of international law which regulate relations among different states and also between states and international intergovernmental organizations in connection with space activity and which establish the international legal status of space and of the moon and other celestial bodies.

Space law as a branch of modern international law began to take shape in the 1960’s as states began to explore outer space; the era began in the USSR on Oct. 4, 1957, with the launching of the first artificial earth satellite in human history. The term “space law” (”kosmicheskoe pravo”) has become firmly established in official Soviet diplomatic documents and in the scientific writing of most of the socialist countries. The capitalist countries (the USA, Great Britain, France, Italy) also use the term (law of outer space, droit de l’éspace extra-atmosphérique, Weltraumrecht, diritto spaziale), as well as such terms as interplanetary law and astronautic law.

As with other branches of modern international law, the sources of space law are international treaties and international custom. The United Nations plays an important role in the development of space law; a number of resolutions and drafts of international agreements concerning this area have been developed and adopted within the UN framework. In 1959 a special UN committee, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, was established; it has scientific-technical and legal subcommittees and working groups on navigation satellites, study of the earth’s resources by means of satellite, live broadcasting by means of satellite, and other topics.

Although space law arose quite recently, a whole series of international documents already exists containing the norms of this law. Among these documents are the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the Outer Space Treaty of 1967); the Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, which was adopted on Dec. 13, 1963, as a resolution of the UN General Assembly; the Moscow Test Ban Treaty of 1963 prohibiting testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, space, and underwater; and the agreement between the USSR and the United States not to place nuclear weapons and other types of weapons of mass destruction in space (confirmed on Oct. 17, 1963, by a resolution of the UN General Assembly). Other documents include the agreement on rescuing astronauts and cosmonauts and returning them and objects launched into space, which was ratified by the UN General Assembly on Dec. 19, 1967 (opened on Apr. 22, 1968, in Moscow, London, and Washington for signing by all states, it went into force on Dec. 4, 1968), and the convention on international liability for loss caused by space objects, ratified by the UN General Assembly on Nov. 29, 1971 (opened for signing in Moscow, London, and Washington on Mar. 29, 1972). Also of great importance are the decisions of the World Administrative Radio Conference for Space Telecommunications of 1963 and 1971 concerning the assignment of frequencies for space radio services. In addition, there are many bilateral and multilateral international agreements on scientific and technical cooperation in the field of space exploration and use.

The agreement between the USSR and the United States on cooperation in the exploration and use of space for peaceful purposes reached on May 24, 1972, was very important for the further development of international space law. On Nov. 15, 1971, in Moscow, the Agreement on the Establishment of the Intersputnik International Space Communications System and Organization was signed (the agreement went into force on July 15, 1972). The Intelsat communications system (United States) has been functioning by means of satellites since 1964.

The fundamental principles of international space law are contained in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967: freedom in exploring and using space and celestial bodies; partial demilitarization of space (a ban on placing in space any object with nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction) and complete demilitarization of celestial bodies; a ban on national appropriation of space and celestial bodies; application of the basic principles of international law, including the UN Charter, to the exploration and use of space and celestial bodies; extension of the sovereign rights of states to the space objects launched by them; international liability of states for national activity in space, including liability for loss caused by space objects; prevention of potentially harmful consequences of experiments in space and on celestial bodies; assistance to the crews of spacecraft in case of emergency, disaster, and forced or unintentional landing; and promotion of international cooperation in the peaceful exploration and use of space and celestial bodies.

The USSR has made significant contributions to the shaping and development of space law. It was through Soviet initiative that the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the 1968 agreement on rescuing astronauts and cosmonauts were concluded. In 1971 the Soviet Union advanced a proposal to develop an international treaty concerning the moon, and in 1972 the USSR proposed a convention on the principles of the use of artificial earth satellites by states for live television broadcasting. Corresponding drafts of the agreements were submitted to the United Nations. The Soviet Union is striving to ban the use of space for military purposes, considering such a ban to be the best method of ensuring that space is used exclusively for peaceful purposes. As early as 1958 the Soviet government proposed a ban on the use of outer space for military purposes and called for international cooperation in the field of space study (this proposal became a constituent part of the Soviet draft of the treaty of general and complete disarmament).

Space law is developing in two main directions. On the one hand, the principles of the 1967 treaty are being developed and made specific; the 1968 agreement on rescue and the 1972 convention on international liability for loss are the first steps in this direction. The improvement in the technique of space flights raises the question of establishing an altitude limit for the application of state sovereignty in the space above the earth (that is, of defining the concept of space). The development of legal steps to prevent pollution and contamination of space deserves attention. The other direction of the development of space law is directly connected to the use of artificial earth satellites and orbiting stations for communications, television broadcasting, meteorology, navigation, and study of the earth’s natural resources. In space meteorology, international legal regulation is becoming very important to promote mutual exchange of data and to coordinate the meteorological activities of various countries.

Specialized and other UN institutions are showing considerable interest in space problems and in the international law relating to those problems. Numerous nongovernmental international organizations, including the Interparliamentary Union, the International Institute of Space Law, the International Law Association, and the Institute of International Law, are studying the problems of space law. Research centers for studying the problems of space law have been established in many countries. In the USSR these problems are studied at various research institutions; in addition, the Commission on Legal Questions of Interplanetary Space of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and the Committee on Space Law of the Soviet Association of International Law have been established.


Kosmos i mezhdunarodnoe pravo. Collection of articles edited by E. A. Korovin. Moscow, 1962.
Zhukov, G. P. Kosmicheskoe pravo. Moscow, 1966.
Piradov, A. S. Kosmos i mezhdunarodnoe pravo. Moscow, 1970.


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