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This article is written by Aryan Kashyap, from Lloyd Law College, Greater Noida. This is an exhaustive article on International Space Laws, covering the legislation and jurisdiction of such laws. At the same time examining the crimes in space and its constituents.


We can describe space laws as the statutory body of law having jurisdiction over all space-related activities. All the States fall under the purview of Space Laws. In this regard, they are very similar to International Laws. It is comprised of these:

  • International Agreements.
  • Treaties.
  • International Conventions.
  • United Nations General Assembly Resolutions.
  • Other Rules and Regulations of International bodies.

Who legislates Space Laws?

The term “Space Laws” primarily refers to all the rules, regulations, principles and standards of procedures. The principle International Organisation which works on outer space-related affairs is the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). The main functions of the UNOOSA are:

  • Ensuring the peaceful use of space.
  • Regulating the exploration of space.
  • Ensuring the usage of space science and technologies for sustainable economic development.
  • The utilisation of space for social development.

United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA)

Initially, the UNOOSA was formed as a small expert unit under the United Nations Secretariat as an ad hoc committee, promoting the peaceful uses of outer space. It was established in 1958, in the General Assembly resolution 1348 (XII).

Soon after its formation, the UNOOSA unit was moved to the Department of Political and Security Council Affairs and later it was metamorphosed into the Outer Space Affairs division of the Department in 1968.

UNISPACE Conferences

Sputnik 1 marked the advent of the space age back in 1957. Since then the United Nations has been stressing on the importance of peaceful international coordination in outer space. The outer space is believed to be the wild west, but many don’t know it has the potential to support immense socio-economic development for the future. 

No single country had the technology advanced enough to go out there and reap those benefits. Thus, as the famous saying goes, “Unity is strength”, the need for global cooperation on this was recognised.

Overseeing this immensely beneficial scope of development, the UN organised a series of global conferences for the exploration and peaceful uses of outer space and its resources. These series of conferences were known as UNISPACE conferences. There have been three UNISPACE conferences, all of them were held in Vienna.

The key agendas discussed in each of the conferences:


The data and information as per the information provided by the Official UNISPACE I Report:

Timeline: held from 14th August to 27th August 1968.

Attendees: 78 member states, 9 specialized UN agencies, 4 other International organisations.

Key takeaways:  This was the first of the series of the conferences: 

  1. Raising awareness of the vast potential of space. 
  2. Discover possible space benefits for the entirety of humankind. 
  3. Review the advancement of space science and technology. 
  4. Promote international cooperation. 
  5. Work for development, keeping in mind the benefit of the third world countries. 
  6. Recommended the formation of an Expert Space Applications Unit. (This later turned out to be UNOOSA)


The data and information as per the information provided by the Official UNISPACE II Report

Timeline: held from 9th August to 21st August 1982.

Attendees: 94 member states, 45 Intergovernmental and Non-governmental organisations. 

Key takeaways: this was the second of the series of conferences. This question raised many important contemporary questions: 

  1. Asked about the procedure of maintaining the usage of outer space for peaceful purposes.
  2. Questions about preventing an arms race in outer space.
  3. What shall be the essential requirements of maintaining a peaceful exploration of outer space?
  4. Enable means for the developing countries to benefit from the peaceful and healthy uses of technology.
  5. UNISPACE II strengthened the UNOOSA programme.
  6. Marked the establishment of UN-affiliated regional space science centres for the development of science and technology.  


The data and information as per the information provided by the Official UNISPACE III Report

Timeline: held from 19th July to 30th July 1999. 

Attendees: 97 member states, 9 UN specialised agencies, 15 International Intergovernmental Organisations. 

Key takeaways: this was the third of the series of conferences. This conference laid the foundation of peaceful uses of outer space in the 21st century: 

  1. The need to protect the environment on a global level. 
  2. Efficient management of natural resources. 
  3. Protecting the space environment.
  4. Increase the outflow of space science and benefits to the developing nations.
  5. This conference ended with the Vienna Declaration on Space and Human Development infamous as The Vienna Declaration.
  6. The Vienna Declaration recommended 33 strategies addressing contemporary challenges in space activities.

Jurisdiction of Space Laws

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967

The Outer Space Treaty is also known as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies. At the time it was signed up by three countries:

  • The Russain Federation.
  • The United Kingdom.
  • The United States of America.

This treaty further brought the reassurance that outer space was to be used only for peaceful purposes and it shall be for the betterment of mankind. It further laid out the direction to proceed:

  • It brought into action the points as promised in the treaty. (International cooperation in matters relating to outer space, peaceful co-existence).
  • Requested the countries signing up for the treaty to ratify the treaty as soon as possible.
  • The treaty expressed its hope for its successful adherence for a long time.

Requested the committee to adhere by certain measures for peaceful uses of outer space:

  • To come to an agreement to set the liability for the damages caused in the due process of launching objects into outer space.
  • To come to an agreement on the aid of astronauts and space vehicles (returns and assistance).
  • To form a lucid definition of outer space and the processes of its utilisation.
  • To decide the various implications of communication in space.
  • Provide a report of progress in work at the 22nd General Assembly Session.

By the virtue of this treaty, the states came to an agreement on these points:

Article I

  • The exploration of outer space, which includes the moon and all other celestial bodies, shall only be carried out for the benefit of humanity, in the interest of all countries, without any discrimination on any grounds.
  • The definition of outer space, which includes the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and is also open for use for all the states. This shall adhere to the norms of equality and other International Laws.
  • The states shall have the liberty of conducting scientific investigations in outer space (which includes the moon and other celestial bodies). All the states must promote International cooperation in the matters concerning such investigations.

Article II

No action taken by any State can permit them to make claims of sovereignty over outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies.

Article III

The states undertaking outer space exploration activities must act in accordance with the international laws as well as the UN charter. They shall also maintain international peace and cooperation in doing so.

Article IV

  • The States entering the treaty must not place objects carrying nuclear weapons or any kinds of WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) in the Earth’s orbit, stations and celestial bodies.
  • The state parties entering the treaty are eligible to use the moon and other celestial bodies but for peaceful purpose only.
  • The states are forbidden from setting up military bases, frontiers, fortifications, or even test weapons of any kind and the conduct of military drills or manoeuvres on celestial bodies and the moon.
  • The military personnel shall be allowed to conduct scientific research, but for peaceful purposes only.
  • The use of any equipment and necessary facilities is also permitted on the condition that they are for peaceful purposes.

Article V

  • The parties who have entered into this treaty shall consider astronauts as representatives of mankind into outer space.
  • The states must provide any possible assistance in the advent of any accidents, distress, or emergency situations upon landing in the territory of another state or on the high seas.
  • When the envoys make such a landing (in a foreign territory), they shall be without any harm or distress returned to the state of which their vehicle is registered to. 
  • When conducting space activities (both outer space and celestial bodies), the astronauts of one member nation shall provide all the possible assistance to a fellow astronaut of another state.
  • It is the fundamental duty of a member state to immediately pass on the information to other states or to the UN Secretary-General. Information related to any phenomena occurring in outer space, including on the moon and other celestial bodies., especially when these constitute a potential danger to the life and health of astronauts. 

Article VI

  • Any member State of the treaty, which launches or acquires an object into outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies as well as the member state from whose land the launch was facilitated shall be held internationally liable for any damage to another member state of the treaty.
  • The member states in case of any damages shall be held liable if their acts caused damages to any natural or juridical persons, even by its component parts, in air, in the outer space, on the moon and other celestial bodies.
  • The activities of any non-governmental entity in outer space shall require a permit and constant supervision on the state’s end. This is for the concerned state from whose territory’s individual the operations are being carried out.
  • The member states must ensure the compliance of the international laws by their parties.

Article VII

  • Each state party of the treaty procures the right of launching objects into outer space, including the moon and other celestial objects.
  • They shall be internationally held liable if their object harms any other state, property or person.

Article VIII

  • A member state of the treaty has the jurisdiction over any object any personnel it has launched in outer space or on a celestial body.
  • There is no change in the ownership of any object launched into outer space, even though it might have landed or constructed on a celestial body before returning to Earth. 
  • Any registered objects found off limits of the member state shall be furnished back to the respective owner-state upon a request post identifying the identity.

Article IX

  • In the due process of exploration of outer space, the moon and other celestial bodies, the member states of the treaty shall act the principle of mutual cooperation and act keeping in mind the interests of fellow states.
  • The states, in the due process of exploration, must not contaminate or cause harm to Earth’s environment or even alien land.
  • If a state discovers that its activities might potentially cause harm to other nationals or affects extra-terrestrial lands then they must undertake due diligence and priorly take necessary international consultations before proceeding.
  • Any other concerned member states, if it oversees any such potential harm to the earth’s or the extra-terrestrial lands, then it may request an international consultation regarding the same

Article X

  • In order to promote international peace and cooperation in the exploration of outer space, the member states, if possible must grant the requests of member states for an opportunity to afford a flight of the space objects.
  • Such an opportunity can be afforded by means of an agreement between the member states.

Article XI

  • In order to promote international peace and cooperation in the exploration of outer space, the member states must inform the Secretary-General of the UN plus the international scientific community the most feasible and practical locations for the conduct of activities.
  • It is the duty of the UN Secretary-General to immediately pass on the information to other states for the benefit of all.

Article XII

  • Other member states in the due process of exploration of outer space including the moon and other celestial objects shall be allowed to use all the types of equipment, installations, stations, vehicles and other requires instruments upon a reasonably sound and scheduled activity.
  • The member states upon using this privilege must ensure that they are not disrupting any routine activity in doing so.

Article XIII

  • All the provisions apply to the member states as well as upon any joint state space exploration to be undertaken.
  • In case of any pragmatic question or any issues being raised, they shall be resolved amongst the member states with a respective international organisation or organisations.

Article XIV

  • This treaty is open to all the states. Any state which did not wish to sign up for the treaty before, may in accordance with paragraph 3 of this article is open to signing up for it anytime.
  • The instruments of ratification lie with the governments of the United Kingdom and North Ireland, The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America. These nation’s governments are the depositary governments of ratification of treaties i.e they approve the application of other states who want to enter into the treaty.
  • This treaty shall be brought into force upon the ratification of five governments including the depository governments.
  • The states whose instruments of ratification are put on hold shall be allowed to enter the treaty only when they are provided with the clearance by the depository state government.
  • It is the duty of the depository government to bring to the notice of all the member states and the states aspiring to be a member of the treaty, the date of deposit of each instrument.
  • This treaty falls under the jurisdiction of Article 102 of the Charter of the United Nations.

Article XV

  • Any member state of the treaty is open to proposing amendments to this treaty.
  • The amendments shall come into force only when it is accepted by the majority of the member state of the treaty.

Article XVI

  • The member states are allowed to withdraw themselves from the treaty only after completion of a year.
  • Such withdrawals come into effect only after a year from the date of publishing of the notification.

Article XVII

  • Equally authentic archives of the treaty shall be presented in these languages:
    • English
    • Russian
    • French
    • Spanish
    • Chinese 
  • Duly certified copies of this treaty shall be provided to the depository governments.
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Treaties and Conventions governing Space Laws

As Andrew G. Hailey rightly said, legislating space laws might be one of the toughest feats for the law. The cosmos is vast. It is difficult to adjudicate it. Principally there are five international treaties which deal with certain rudimentary issues related to space. These issues are:

  • Any state not appropriating space laws.
  • The freedom of exploration and related issues.
  • Damages and liability caused by space objects.
  • Safety and rescue of astronauts and spacecraft.
  • Avoiding harmful interventions.
  • Avoiding environmental interventions.
  • Conducting scientific investigation procedures.
  • Method of the settlement of disputes.

Primarily, there are five treaties dealing under the UN’s umbrella governing outer space. These are also known as “five United Nations treaties on outer space”. They are:

Outer Space Treaty

As described earlier, it is one of the main laws which govern all the member states, who have entered into the treaty. This also promotes the peaceful use and exploration of space-related activities. It was signed back in 1967 and continues to date.

Rescue Agreement

The rescue agreement was given the green light by the General Assembly in 1967. This agreement supporters every means possible to help and rescue the astronauts in situations of distress.

The member states, upon request from the party in distress, must promptly assist the states to return registered space objects of the launching party. These two articles describe this treaty best. They are:

Article 5

  • Any contracting State, upon receiving the information regarding the discovery of a space object or its components, whether in high seas or under its jurisdiction must inform the launching state and the Secretary-General of the United Nations regarding the same.
  • All the member states of the treaty, upon finding an outer space object or any component under its jurisdiction, on the request from the launching party shall try to recover such an object if it is pragmatically possible.
  • All the member states of the treaty, upon finding an outer space object or any component under its jurisdiction, on the request from the launching party shall try to return the object after its proper identification.
  • As per paragraphs 1 and 2 of this article, if in the due course of the procuring the object, if the party discovers that it is hazardous in nature, the launching state must immediately take appropriate measures to eliminate or control the harm from the object.
  • The costs incurred by the helping party in the course of procuring an object or its component from the space must be borne by the launching party.

Article 8

  • All the states are open to suggest amendments in this agreement.
  • The amendments must be passed on the basis of the majority opinion.

The Liability Convention

The liability convention was reached to an agreement in the UN General Assembly in 1971. This treaty basically elaborates on the outer space treaty’s Article 7. This convention provides the criteria on which a state becomes liable to pay damages to another state. This convention also has laid down the procedures of settlements of disputes and of the claim for the damages caused.

Article VII

  • Each state party of the treaty procures the right of launching objects into outer space, including the moon and other celestial objects.
  • They shall be internationally held liable if their object harms any other state, property or person.

The Registration Convention

The Registration Convention was negotiated and agreed upon by the General Assembly in 1974. After the ratification of The Outer Space Treaty, The Rescue Agreement and the Liability Convention, the states expressed their concerns that in order for these treaties and agreements to work effectively, there was the need of some formal recognition/identity. The need for this was that:

  • In the absence of a proper registration system, it could not be decided whom to hold liable for any damage caused.
  • The owner of the objects returned from the space could not be determined.

The Moon Agreement

The Moon Agreement has been the controversial one, amongst other conventions. This agreement was highly debated between 1972 and 1979. However, much later in 1984, it came into force with the ratification of the fifth country, Austria. This happened after the passing of the resolution 34/68.

The main points of this agreement are:

  • The primary task was to confirm the other provisions of the outer space treaty apply to the moon and other celestial bodies.
  • The moon and other celestial bodies must be only used for peaceful purposes.
  • In the due process of exploration of the moon and other celestial bodies, no harm must be caused to the environment.
  • The United Nations must be informed of the location and aims and objectives of any station that is to be established on the moon and on other celestial bodies.
  • This agreement recognises the moon to be a common heritage of mankind. 
  • No international body shall be allowed to make any claims of sovereignty on the moon and other celestial bodies.
  • No international body or state is allowed to use these bodies for the purpose of exploitation.

Thus, these five treaties and conventions primarily govern and constitute the majority of space laws.

The International Space Station (ISS)

The International Space Station is an international programme. It is a huge spacecraft, weighing a whopping 450 tons. It is a collaborated programme between the following nations:

  • European member nations.
  • Russia.
  • Canada.
  • Japan.
  • The United States.

The astronauts in The ISS mainly conduct scientific experiments which cannot be conducted on Earth.

The legal framework of the International Space Station

The ISS falls under the jurisdiction of various legal frameworks and obligations. It is governed on these International Agreements and Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs):

The International Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement

  • The International Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement commonly referred to as ‘IGA’.
  • This is an international Treaty which was signed on 29th January 1998.
  • 15 state’s governments participated in the Space Station project.
  • This agreement laid the foundation for a long term partnership for constructing a prototype of a civil space station in space, which would be used for peaceful purposes only.

The Memoranda of Understandings (MoUs)

Four Memoranda of Understandings were signed between these nation’s space organisations: 

  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
  • Europe Space Agency (ESA).
  • Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
  • Russain Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).
  • Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The main purpose of these space agencies is to designate the roles and responsibilities of the agencies in the building and designing of the space station. These MoUs also demarcate the management structure and provide the necessary guidelines for the maximum utilisation of the space station.

Other Bilateral Arrangements

Several bodies have been created amongst the various space agencies to distribute the work and to help implement the other guidelines as decided by the IGA.

The Intergovernmental Agreement 

This agreement was signed by 14 countries. They are:

  1. The United States of America
  2. Canada
  3. Japan
  4. The Russian Federation
  5. Belgium
  6. Denmark
  7. France
  8. Germany
  9. Italy
  10. The Netherlands
  11. Norway
  12. Spain
  13. Sweden
  14. Switzerland

This agreement laid down the framework promoting cooperative long-term partnership between the signed countries and the other countries to join in future.

Who is the owner of the International Space Station?

No individual country is the owner of the ISS. It was built as a result of the collaborative efforts of five countries:

  • The United States
  • Canada
  • Russia
  • Japan
  • European member nations

The collaborated ownership of the International Space Station is described under an International treaty, which is titled International Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement (The IGA). Article 6 of the IGA talks about ownership.

  1. The IGA extends the national jurisdiction of the member states into outer space, which means that the equipment and elements (E.g. Laboratories can be classified as elements) they provide are subjects of the respective partner states.
  2. Thes laws imply that space station’ owners – the United States, Canada, The Russain Federation, Japan and Europe, the various countries within the European Space Agency are to be treated as a single unit.
  3. The elements of a state are its property. By the virtue of this, if a country has any property, equipment or a laboratory, it shall fall under its jurisdiction.
  4. The application of national laws implies that in criminal cases, liability issues, cases of intellectual property and other rights the national laws of a nation must apply.
  5. In case a dispute or disputes arise on any matter, they are to be resolved on the basis of the already laid down procedures. 
  6. The fundamental norms imply that the member states retain jurisdiction and gain complete control over:
  • Its state’s registered elements and equipment.
  • Over the personnel of its state.
  • These norms apply to anything in or on the space station who is a national of the member state.  

MoU on Supply of elements

All the member states contribute and bring their own elements. The memorandum of Understanding laid down the elements provided by the partners:

The Canadian Government with its representational agency the Canadian Space Agency shall provide: 

  • The Space Station’s infrastructure elements.
  • A mobile servicing centre (MSC).
  • An extra flight element.
  • The Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator.
  • Space Station’s Unique ground Elements.

The European partner, through their space agency, the European Space Agency, shall provide these:

  • The European Pressurized laboratory.
  • The basic functional outfits.
  • Flight elements to supply and boost the Space Station.
  • Other Flight elements.
  • Unique Space Station ground equipment.

The Japanese Government through its space agency must provide:

  • The Japanese Experiment Module.
  • The basic functional outfits. 
  • The exposed facility.
  • Experiment Logistics modules.
  • Elements supplying Space Station.
  • Basic flight equipment.
  •  Space Station’s Unique ground equipment.

The Russain Government, through its Space Agency, The Russain Space Agency, shall provide:

  • Servicing and other modules.
  • Research modules.
  • Basic functional outfits.
  • Payload accommodation equipment.
  • Space Station’s Unique ground equipment.

The United State’s Government, through its space agency NASA must provide:

  • A Habitation Module.
  • Laboratory modules.
  • Basic functioning outfits.
  • Attached payload accommodation.
  • Supply elements.
  • Space Station’s Unique ground equipment. 

Laws and liabilities in the International Space Station:

When such a big project is being undertaken many problems could arise. Such an event was foreseen and measures were planned for such dire actions. Fundamental rules of liability regarding space activities as it is laid down in the Liability convention 1972. The liabilities set under this convention and the Intergovernmental Agreement are:

  1. The Intergovernmental Agreement has set up a provision of ‘cross-waiver of liability’. This allows all the five-member states in addition to their related entities (the contractor, the subcontractor, users, customers) to claim damages from another state member or its related entities.
  2. Due to following these obligations, each state has to formally set up a contract with its own contractors and subcontractors.
  3. There exist some exceptions to the cross-waiver of liability. They are:
  •  Intentional misconduct. 
  • Claims made by a person for bodily injuries.
  • Claims made by a person for death.
  • Intellectual Property Claims.

All the people using the Space Station agree to an inter-party waiver of liability. It is a component of their contract with the European Space Agency. It states that:

  • No state shall sue or bring arbitrary claims to any other party for INternational Space Station related activities.
  • The laws applicable to raised disputes and other procedures have to be mutually decided by the member states of the Space Station and the member so the European Space Agency. 
  • The contract between the member states must pre-decide the country where the Arbitral-tribunal shall meet.

Crimes in Space

Space is considered to be ‘res communis’, meaning common ground. There are some areas which are regarded as common ground by all the states. No particular state is the sole owner of these areas. These areas include the high seas, outer space, Antarctica etc. 

The Intergovernmental Agreement of the Space Station’s member nations states that if any astronaut of a member state commits any crime in space, he/she will be subject to the laws of their states and the due course of law will proceed accordingly. 

Is Space Mining Legal?

The scientists believe that the moon and other celestial bodies can have many sustainable resources which might pave a way for providing resources for future generations. The scientists even claim that if we are able to find water on the moon, we might be able to cut down the costs of colonizing the moon by a whopping 90 per cent. It might also have other valuable minerals like platinum and whatnot, this can give humanity the further push required.  

There are some companies looking forward to conducting mining on the moon and other celestial bodies.

As we know that the outer space is free for exploration by all the states, only if it is for peaceful uses. The regulations regarding private entities are vague.

The Asteroids Act of 2015

  • This Act states that the resources that will be extracted from the asteroids and other celestial bodies shall be the sole property of the individual or corporation who extracted them.
  • This act requires the space mining companies to avoid causing any harm to the outer space.
  • This act gives permission to all the companies to sue other countries in the scenario, where they are causing harmful interference to space.

Can you push a dead body into space?

  • The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 in its Article IX called for the appointment of planetary officers. The main duty of a planetary officer is to make sure that we do not contaminate other planets or celestial bodies in the process of conducting space exploration. 
  • In unfortunate circumstances where an astronaut died of some accident or any health issues, the fellow astronauts are not allowed to put the body of a dead astronaut into space, because it invokes the possibility of that body carrying microbes to some other extra-terrestrial planet.
  • Every time any state undertakes any space exploration, it is contaminating the outer space a little, because the spacecraft carrying the astronauts will be carrying some microbes from the earth which can settle in some extra-terrestrial land. This might trick us into believing we have discovered some new alien species.

The First Space Crime ever Committed

  • In August, NASA astronaut Anne McClain was accused by her ex-wife for charges of identity theft. It was alleged that the crime was committed from the International Space Station using a NASA computer.
  • This incident made Anne McClain, the first individual to be ever investigated for an alleged space crime.
  • Contemporarily, there is no solid framework established under the international laws for handling such disputes.
  • The only jurisdiction covering any dispute as of now arises under the IGA, that is any astronaut in alleged for any crime, shall be tried on the basis of their national laws.


In this article, I have talked about International Space laws and its origin. I have answered certain questions about who makes these laws, and how they are implemented. We explored the legislation and laws applicable to the International Space Station. Finally, we have talked about the crimes in space and what are the activities that constitute to be a crime in space and what are measures undertaken to control it.


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