Exploring the Laws of Outer Space

The concept of sovereignty in space is a complex one, as no nation can lay claim to owning the Moon, or any other celestial body. However, there are laws that exist to govern activities in space, and these laws are known as space law. Space law is a set of international agreements, treaties, conventions and resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly, as well as rules and regulations of international organizations. It is designed to provide a framework for the resolution of disputes relating to issues that arise in space.

The origins of space law can be traced back to 1919, when international law recognized the sovereignty of each country over airspace directly over its territory. This was later reinforced by the Chicago Convention in 1944. In 1942, Theodore von Kármán and other rocket scientists teamed up with attorney Andrew G. Jakhu to form the rocket company Aerojet. Jakhu is also the senior professor and former director of the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University, and Steven Freeland is professor emeritus of International Law at the University of Western Sydney. The McGill Manual on International Law Applicable to the Military Uses of Outer Space (MILAMOS Project) was written by institutions around the world to clarify existing rules of international law as they apply to military uses of outer space.

This manual outlines 52 rules that clarify space laws. These laws impose restrictions on irresponsible and dangerous actions and address new challenges in outer space. In addition, with the increase in the number of commercial and private space operators, countries are adopting national space laws to regulate and supervise the manner in which all national space activities are carried out in accordance with international law. This would include, for example, the inherent right to legitimate national defense, recognized in Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations. Weapons of mass destruction are prohibited in orbit and beyond, and the Moon, planets and other heavenly bodies can only be used for peaceful purposes. It is considered clear that international space law applies to objects in orbit and beyond, which applies to objects that can be described as “space objects”, including rockets, at least from the moment of “intentional ignition”, applies to astronauts and applies to any conduct that can be described as a “national activity in outer space”.To this end, for the past six years McGill University and a number of collaborating institutions from around the world have been involved in drafting the McGill Manual on International Law Applicable to the Military Uses of Outer Space.

This manual seeks to clarify and reaffirm that existing laws are relevant and applicable to accommodate new activities and applications. Space law is an important part of international law that seeks to provide a framework for responsible behavior in outer space. It is essential for ensuring safety and security in outer space activities.

Jeannie Eschenbrenner
Jeannie Eschenbrenner

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