How Many Nations Have Space Laws?

Space activities are regulated by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which has been ratified by 111 countries. The United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) oversees five international treaties that support space law, and these treaties refer to the McGill Manual, which outlines 52 rules that clarify space laws. The International Institute of Space Law (IISL) also organizes the annual Manfred Lachs simulated space court competition, with five regional rounds (North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America) followed by semifinals and finals, as well as the annual IISL colloquium. This collection of laws and regulations related to the exploration and use of outer space is based on communications submitted by states.

This helps to prevent miscalculations and misunderstandings, and in turn encourages transparency, confidence-building and certain forms of cooperation in space. Space law is codified in several laws, beginning with the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 (NASA Act), which was passed on July 29, 1958. The rules clarify international law applicable to all space activities conducted in times of peace and in times of tension that pose challenges to peace. 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”), came into effect on October 10, 1967. With the rise in the number of commercial and private space operators, countries are adopting national space laws to regulate and oversee how all national space activities are conducted in accordance with international law. Experts have highlighted that the right to self-defense in relation to military space activities must take into account the unique legal and physical aspects of outer space.

Five international treaties and five “declarations” and legal principles were developed through the United Nations (UN), which maintains an Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) in Vienna (Austria). Kuan-Wei Chen, executive director of the Center for Air and Space Law Research at McGill University; Bayar Goswami, Arsenault PhD fellow at the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University; Ram S. Agreement on the rescue of astronauts, the return of astronauts and the return of objects launched into space (the “Astronaut Rescue and Return Agreement”).

Jeannie Eschenbrenner
Jeannie Eschenbrenner

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