October 20, 2021

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Space legislation : the way forward

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This article is written by Anshal Dhiman, student at RGNUL, Patiala, pursuing BA.LLB (Hons.). The article talks about the history of space laws and their contemporary position. The article also talks about India’s position regarding space legislation.

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Elon Musk has made everyone familiar with the developments going around related to space and the adventures planned by SpaceX and NASA. When Russia launched the Sputnik-I in 1957, it opened new doors to the outer world for the humans on earth and increased the dimensions of learning massively for people. Of course, it was a big deal, going to space is no small achievement, in fact it is often underrated in this era of technological developments.

When Neil Armstrong took the first human step on the moon and said “a small step for man, a giant leap for mankind”, he wasn’t lying. It was a giant leap for mankind, not only in the field of technology but in the field of law as well. Whenever something new is invented or discovered, the first issue that arises with it is how it will be covered under the ambit of existing legislation.

It happened with telephones, cars, and other business fields. But space is a pretty unique field to make laws on. It still feels unreal to be thinking about making laws on space travel. But the reality is space exploration is real and there is a need for strict space legislation, if not now then sometime in the future, because of the way developments are taking place in space exploration, the dream of human colonization of other planets could become true, which of course, if done without any legal restrictions would lead to bad events.

Creating IP laws for space is of great importance, given the consistent development of the most progressive and modern innovation put to use in space-related exercises. To inspect the significance of IPR in space exercises, let us take the case of Far off Detecting Satellites, which take symbolisms of earth from space and send it back to the satellite stations set up on earth for different purposes.

These symbolisms are called Earth Perception (EO) Information or Spatial Information. The whole interaction is a product of scholarly making of the human brain and consequently falls under the ambit of IP. Outer space exercises have consistently been described by cutting edge creations and progressed science however, the acknowledgment of IPR regarding these exercises is of a new source, and India, in the same way as other nations, has not authorized any space enactment, nor has any arrangements managing space exercises in its homegrown IPR system. 

Space liability

Space liability implies that a State will be responsible to pay for harm brought about by its space objects on the outside of the Earth or to an airport, and at risk for harm because of its flaws in space. The space liability convention is an arrangement from 1972 that develops the obligation rules made in the Space Treaty of 1967. In 1978, the accident of the atomic-fueled Soviet satellite Kosmos 954 in the Canadian domain prompted the lone case documented under the show.

Initial development

Space laws weren’t talked about only after the launch of Sputnik I in 1957. In reality, talks for space laws began approx. 50 years before the first official human activity with outer space. From 1910 to 1930 there was talk of space laws in various journals and articles, but at this time, space exploration and space travel was only a fantasy idea and most people did not believe any of this could become real, at least in their lifetime. Emile Laude, a lawyer from Belgium, was one of the few people who realized the practicality of space laws about matters involving ownership and the waves that will be discovered or used in the future for developmental reasons. 

Another such visionary, V.A. Zarzar also posed questions about the future need for space laws. But it is important to know that when these people talked about space laws, they didn’t speak in terms that could resonate with today’s understanding of space exploration and space legislation. Air travel was a discovery at that time and it was related to space legislation too. So the laws these lawyers and jurists talk about are more related to aviation than actual space travel. But after the launch of Sputnik I, space exploration was no more a comic idea. The USA and USSR were the two leading countries in the field and of course, these were the ones who were going to have the most influence on any space legislation that would be enacted.

Development after 1957

 In 1959, an Outer Space Committee was framed to keep up the United Nations Charter and other worldwide law in space, which opened the path for peaceful investigation. In 1963 the Nuclear Test Ban arrangement was marked, trailed by an Outer Space Committee goal to restrict atomic weapons testing in space. Later in the very year, a UN General Assembly statement recognized a free global interest in space improvement and illustrated rules doling out on every country which is individually answerable for managing offenses of worldwide law and for any subsequent obliteration. The Global collaboration was suggested for the defending of all space explorers in emergency circumstances.

In 1967, an Outer Space Treaty was sanctioned by 63 members in theUnited Nations. As time passed, more nations became inspired by space exercises, and the size of COPUOS expanded. As the size expanded, getting agreement on the substance of formal settlements turned out to be generously more difficult. After 1980 the COPUOS administered the drafting, detailing, and appropriation of 4 extra General Assembly goals containing presentations of standards. Because of the advancement in the field and today space is being used for the man in his everyday exercises different other lawful issues have begun to arise and the standards in the space deal of 1967 aren’t adequate to lead quiet exercises in space today.

Different issues identifying with the business exercises of the space, for example, the space flight and space travel industry don’t have laws to oversee them. As the exercises in space created and the sending of objects to space had likewise expanded all the while they would prompt the issue of room garbage as there could be no legitimate methods for arranging the space objects after they get lapsed or fizzled. Laws identifying with the guideline of room exercises concerning the development of debris are required. Further exercises, for example, space mining prompts misuse of regular assets in the space, this prompts different ecological concerns.

Private sector

India’s space journey started in 1962 when the ISRO was formed to develop space technologies, with Vikram Sarabhai being the lead scientist who realized the need to have a specific body dedicated to space research. Space has been a public subject for a long time until recent times. Elon Musk-led SpaceX, as mentioned above, is one of the leading private space exploration-oriented organizations which is making big leaps in the field.

A Recent collaboration with NASA and NASA’s dependence on a private company for its space research has shown that in the future this field is most probably going to be privatized too. Space exploration in India is now finally becoming open to the private sector, given the advances the help that the government has been providing to the private businesses to offer types of assistance relating to placing things into space, assisting the ISRO, launching rockets, among different exercises, on a business premise. ISRO is also willing to let the private companies use the facilities at SriHarikota for the purpose of launching satellites, rockets, etc. But at the moment private companies are not directly involved in India. Or maybe, a significant piece of the assembling of satellites and rockets is attempted by the private area as it were.

Nonetheless, its job is restricted to that of providers of segments and sub-frameworks. It needs imperative innovation or assets to contend on the lookout, embrace free space projects or give space-based administrations. In 2020, the Indian government approved the creation of IN-SPACe to provide an equal ground to the commercial sector trying to enter the space tech field. The purpose of this is to provide the private sector with a good start in the field  to encourage their involvement in the field. It is also believed that if the private sector is able to establish itself in the space tech field, it will help India economically too.

India is now challenging the big players, like the USA and Russia. But if we are to believe that India is near the level of these countries then we must also realize that India needs a definite legal framework to be worked on too. There are other countries that themselves do not have specific national laws related to space tech or space exploration, but they have strengthened their legal structure to be ready to make any amendments or bring in a new law in the future when space exploration is more accessible. India has ratified four and signed one of the five UN Treaties related to space laws.

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Global treaties and Indian laws

India is also a signatory to the Moon Treaty of 1979, along with the treaty banning nuclear weapons in space or underwater. Nationally India has enacted the Satellite Communication Policy, 1997 and Remote Sensing Data Policy, 2011. Aside from these policies, the Department of Space provided the draft Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016 which proposed to make it necessary for any person to take the consent of the relevant authority before receiving, sending, scattering, or forwarding any spatial data in the country, and the Draft Space Activities Bill, 2017 which hoped to annihilate the government forcing plan of action and engage the collaboration of non-authoritative private substances’ incorporation in the Indian space zone. Having gone up against investigation from various accomplices, including advanced law experts for certain lacunae, among various reasons, the last bill is at this point an impending idea and hasn’t seen the light of the day.

The realities show that India has made newborn child steps towards characterizing an Indian Space Act, to be explicit, the draft Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016, which is approaching the idea. Regardless, this Bill has a confined degree – to police acquisition, dispersion, and transport of geospatial information of India – however, the vital need is to detail a space law that gets sovereign, public, and business interests on all fronts. As voiced by the ISRO Chairman, “A Space Act would assist the public authority with overseeing genuine issues rising up out of items set up in space and for what occurs for them in circle, or because of them.”

How India fares in the matter of having space legal framework?

India’s advancements are a great achievement, yet an all-encompassing Space Act is crucial in any case. Today, 22 countries that have their national space laws, of which Australia, Japan, and South Korea are the lone Asia-Pacific districts that have been present globally as law-making bodies with specific space laws. India should likewise make progress toward it. This will be an impetus to additional lift India’s space exercises and control them to be in a state of harmony with elements of worldwide space exercises. Consequently, a powerful space system is significant. Its nonattendance can impede India’s development in the future. We should take proactive measures to guarantee its detailing and usage.

Having investigated the global deals and homegrown legitimate and authoritative strategies administering satellite interchanges, it tends to be construed that the approaches simply sketch out what the public authority of India needs to accomplish; in any case, with no lawful commitment appended to it.

A vigorous legitimate system would impart financial backer certainty, pull in FDI and new advancements, lessen authoritative and administrative vulnerabilities, give lucidity on stamp obligation, enlistment necessities, protection, a move of property, legally binding commitment, space flotsam, and jetsam risk, and licensed innovation rights concerning space-related issues, and prosper space business venture by giving a level battleground to the private elements.

This article takes a brief look at the history of space laws, their need in contemporary times, and the position of space laws in the country. Although there are some global treaties that regulate actions of various governments around the world regarding space exploration and space technologies, the author doesn’t feel there still is a proper global framework, which is also due to the fact that only a few countries of the world are capable of carrying regular space missions due to budget problems.

The field of learning in space exploration itself is too complex and technical that normal lawmakers cannot be left on their own to be making laws on something that is so vast and big of a field as space. If the focus is put solely on India, the country has one of the best organizations in ISRO and has been doing a marvelous job creating interest in students and laymen about space tech. Even after all these technical developments, India still does not have a proper legal framework relating to space activities. To keep growing in this field, in a positive manner, laws will have to be developed to shape the future of space tech positively.


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