This article is written by Adithya Prasad, pursuing Diploma in International Business Law from LawSikho. The article has been edited by Aatima Bhatia (Associate, LawSikho) and Dipshi Swara (Senior Associate, LawSikho).
“THE FUTURE OF BUSINESS AND LAW CAN BE TRICKY”
With the conquest of space imminent by humanity, the future must begin to focus its efforts on adapting human life to migrate from the ‘earth species’ to ‘interplanetary species’. With such ambitious plans, we see ourselves with a challenge, the challenge of adapting our activities for inter-planetary use. The central idea being a hassle-free transition into the space age living.
The most important activity ever to be practised by humans would be the art of business. On ground-level, it’s as simple as two parties meeting with each other for a particular purpose. However, when one decides to scale it into space then things get difficult. This article shall discuss the following points:
- The capacity for business in space, is there a scope?
- Legal issues of the future
History has proven one thing; humans have an innate need to expand into the horizon, through idea adaptation and territorial acquisition. Taking any point in histories such as the Spanish inquisition, the German-Nazi command or even the race to space. A great sense of pride and honour is granted to the first who sets foot in a place never before discovered.
Is space open for business?
With many billionaires visiting the edge of the Earth, space is now accessible to the general mass. General mass here, means the civilian section of society. The idea like any other is to spend a lot of money and go to space, just like your regular tourism. So, is space open?
Well for the upper echelon of the global human society, going to space seems more like an open house which takes time to enact over the general impossibility of having that ability to space. As such, to solve this, many pioneers have taken it on themselves to become a business that can take and help you experience space for a few brief moments (as of now).
The simple answer to this question would be yes, space is open for business. Taking the industrial complex race towards space, companies such as Blue-origin and SpaceX, pride themselves on being the first private contractors to haul goods and personnel to space. However, before we go any further, we must understand the scope of business in space. What about space makes it a valuable commodity?
- Space has the capacity for its own tourism. Private companies announcing the possibility of a space tourism service for the general public was received with great awe. Since humans mapped the stars, their intention was to be among the stars itself. Through various folktales and religions, they expressed a desire to have a seat in heaven. With that coming to reality, the industry of tourism is about to get the most attention since the invention of ships to sail the seven seas.
- Valuable resources that can be harvested from an asteroid and its deposits on planets; Despite having resources both private and public entities are questioned and even puzzled on their limits to space use. There are some arbitrary terms that allow for an understanding but that does not suffice. Space as recognized by the UNOOSA, is an environment that is a common heritage to all men and therefore cannot be tampered with at any cost.
This was an argument that further gained recognition during the race to the moon and now mars. Countries that do manage to achieve, through their own or assisted efforts to travel and set foot on, any planet, planetoid or any other sustainable mass does not make it that country’s land. Like the north and south pole, countries can have outposts that control certain parts of territory much like guardianship but not ownership.
In more recent news, the moon is said to have a variation of helium, Helium-3 ions were discovered in the Moon’s upper crust after the Apollo 17 lunar mission brought back soil samples from the Moon. Helium-3 is a non-radioactive hydrogen isotope with one neutron and two protons.
“The reason helium-3 is highly sought after is due to its unique properties. It can fuel non-radioactive nuclear fusion reactions to produce safe, clean, and large quantities of energy, thereby transforming the future of energy generation on Earth. Fusion reactions are much more efficient than fission reactions that are currently used in nuclear plants. He-3 allows energy to be generated with a very limited amount of waste as well.”
- Colonization and expansion efforts; Administration in itself is a huge business, despite hanging the veil of welfare and societal evolution, good administration in itself can be a great source of business for parties involved as it is both the contractor and facilitator for human development. When such colonization efforts do happen, human adaptation in all its activities will be paramount.
These are but a few points on how space in itself is a huge commodity, and companies now announcing civilian experiences offered into space open a new section of laws that must be explored before time runs out, our clock ends when spaceflight is affordable to more than the top crust of society’s purchasing power.
Legal issues of the future
Space law is the youngest sibling of the international law family, least explored and dedicated amongst most laws and this is the problem. The future demands a closer look into space law. In the current day scenario, we have the following treaties among other smaller agreements that govern space-related activities:
1) Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. Adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 2222 (XXI), opened for signature on January 27, 1967, entered into force on October 10, 1967.
2) Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts, and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space. Adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 2345 (XXII), opened for signature on April 22, 1968, entered into force on December 3, 1968.
3) Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects. Adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 2777 (XXVI), opened for signature on March 29, 1972, entered into force on September 1, 1972.
4) Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space. Adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 3235 (XXIX), opened for signature on January 14, 1975, entered into force on September 15, 1976.
5) Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. Adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 34/68, opened for signature on December 18, 1979, entered into force on July 11, 1984.
However, these treaties are not enough to act as foundational sources of law that could be called upon to serve the need of legislation or any other form of legal representation. What kind of sources should we be looking for?
When looking into the concept of space tourism which isthe first and most important step of space integration into society, we must look at elements of labour law, safety, and tourism laws. The first issue that we will face is the concept of force-majeure or the act of God. Despite the existence of “the doctrine of damnum sine injuria” which translates to damages caused without legal injury. The application of which shall be seen through consent forms and other agreements that tend to exonerate themselves from the liability of any legal injury. The problem? We are still discovering the controllable aspects of space which still remains a hostile environment. How are we going to ensure that no legal injury is sustained without knowing for certain what can constitute an Act of God in space in all its operations.
Another fundamental problem that must be addressed is property laws in space. Due to the severe restrictions technologically and economically for regular access to space. The issue of property is not really a concern today, however with growing efforts to acquire assets of space origin, the law through its makers and practitioners must produce ways that ensure the sanctity of space as a heritage to all mankind whilst also allowing a way for research and development.
Considering this, another issue that we will tackle would be pollution laws. As of the last decade, out of the 7,389 satellites that currently orbit the earth as of April 2021, 1,486 are from private parties in the United States alone. This growing satellite race, with the announcement of Elon musk’s new internet service called ‘Star-link’, seeks to employ even more satellites in the orbit. This has caused the global community to now acknowledge the space pollution problem, formed through debris and other destroyed man-made objects. The problem isn’t in the fact that it orbits the earth, but the physics of all objects that orbit in space.
All objects will see a decline or decay in the orbit of an object around a particular mass, their re-entry into our atmosphere can cause air pollution and other environmental harm depending on the circumstances of the debris itself.
This, however, does not end here. The law will still not be prepared to handle the mantle of guiding an interplanetary species. In August of 2019, the case of Anne McClain hit headlines for being the first-ever space crime committed to date. The crime was minor but opened the eyes to the need for criminal law, with enough provisions to be enforced in space. How would you put someone who commits a crime from space? Despite happening before, the Anne McClain case was judged as a crime that was done on land.
This is but the beginning, legal problems are rampant in any society that is subject to constant change. The Primary challenge of law is that it is never enough, as a society always morphs into something beyond comprehension at that point in time. However, throughout human history, this change has been constant. One that can be seen and experienced due to many common grounds. Space, however, is an entirely new element, one that is extremely hostile to mankind.
Therefore, as humanity’s next stand, we must prepare ourselves for the greatest change in all our histories put together. Our march into the stars!
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