chapter  4
40 Pages

Understanding space law: legal framework for space


The desire to define and codify legal principles applicable to Man’s activities in space began in the context of the Cold War, during which time the governments of the Soviet Union and the United States developed and operated many military satellites and dominated the world’s space activities. During these early years of the space age, satellites were mainly useful in maintaining peace and stability through reconnaissance, intelligence-gathering, early warning, and as the national technical means (NTM) of verification for monitoring arms control compliance. Viewed in this context, it is thus not surprising that space law is a relatively new, specialized body of international law that is very permissive for national security space operations. This chapter will first summarize the main principles of space law as reflected in the major international space treaties, examining these concepts in the context of other general international law principles that may impose additional restrictions on the use of space for national security purposes, particularly the use of force in space. The second part of this chapter will discuss US domestic law and policy that further shape how the United States cooperates with others on the use of space. Included in this section is an overview of US domestic laws associated with commercial space activities, since the US domestic commercial space industry is essential to meeting national security requirements as well as international legal obligations. It should first be noted that although US domestic commercial space-related legislation is necessarily restricted to what is allowable within the broad architecture of the previously discussed international laws, domestic laws are primarily enabling – not restrictive – in the sense that they promote domestic investment and cooperation on a scale that would not otherwise occur. Finally, the chapter will identify some space law-related issues about which nations do not agree and which are or may be the source of international and legal conflict in the future.