“Space is for everybody. It’s not just for a few people in science or math, or for a select group of astronauts. That’s our new frontier out there, and it’s everybody’s business to know about space.”
Man’s new endeavours outside the planet were a marvel and mystery, Humans had discovered a playground that was as wide and large as their biggest dreams to explore and sometimes in consequence exploit. Hence framing rules which would regulate the conduct of outer space expeditions become sine quo non.
This article shall analyse the existing international space laws and how they provide a bedrock for countries to have shaped their own laws. Further discussing the exigency of Space Laws in India.
INTERNATIONAL SPACE LAW
Space law is all about multilateral agreements and conventions penned under the guidance of various international organisations including the United Nations. Sound policies and treaties are essential parts to regulate the conduct of nations in order to achieve sustainability in space-related activities.
Ever since World War II, the Soviet Union planned to launch its artificial satellite into space for the sole purpose of armament. Soon after the news was disseminated, the USA introduced the concept of Space Laws to the United Nations to negotiate disarmament. After the accomplishment of launching satellites by the Soviet Union and the USA, both superpowers readily took part in developing space policies that would benefit both nations.
The discussions led to the formation of a committee under the guidance of the United Nations. The committee was named the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) in the year 1959. The aim of the said committee is to encourage cooperation for the peaceful usage of outer space. It also deals with other legislative issues which might arise while space explorations.
The deliberation between party nations also grew the consensus that no nation can claim the uninhabited outer space area which falls right above the lands and territories of a particular nation.
In the following years, under the guidance of its Legal Committee, UNCOPUOS successfully codified the International Law for Outer Space. The Committee formulated five International Treaties ;
- Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies – According to this treaty explorations into space shall be carried out for the benefit and interests of all countries.
- Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into the Outer Space – This treaty dictates that aid and assistance must be given by all states in cases of distress, emergency, unintended landings.
- Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects – This treaty puts the burden of liability on the Launching State to pay compensation for any damage caused due to the state’s objects. Joint liability and specific liabilities in specific cases have also been enlisted under the treaty.
- Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space – Every object launched on and beyond the orbit of Earth must be registered by means of entry in the registry by the State.
- Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and other Celestial Bodies – According to this treaty every activity carried on any celestial body must be exclusively for the purpose of peace, any threat or force or hostile act is prohibited. Military activities are also forbidden.
These treaties were based on the committee-framed five internationally accepted principles :
- Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in Exploration and Use of Outer Space.
- Principles governing the Use by State of Artificial Earth Satellites for International Direct Television Broadcasting.
- Principles Relating to Remote Sensing of Earth from Outer Space.
- Principles Relevant to the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space.
- Declaration on International Cooperation in Exploration and Use of Outer Space for Benefit and Interest of all States, accounting needs of Developing Countries.
NATIONAL SPACE POLICY: INDIA
Major developments in space programs started with the formation of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) which was created with the sole objective of developing space technologies and applying such technologies for the betterment of the nation. ISRO is considered to be among the six largest space agencies in the world .
What laws currently govern Indian Space Programmes?
India has shown its unconditional support to International Laws regarding Outer Space and has been a signatory to Treaties and International Principles.
However, when it comes to the codification of a National Law which would govern the conduct and regulate the activities related to Outer Space, India does not have any such strict codified law unlike, USA and UK. It can be said that India never felt a need felt domestic space law or a policy until recently as outer space was seen more as an international issue area rather than a domestic issue area.
India has taken minor steps in framing other policies which can guide in controlling and regulating space activities performed by the country;
The supreme law of the land has enshrined the following Articles which one must keep in mind in relation to space pursuits:
(i) Promotion of International Peace and Security (Article 51)
The article states that it is the duty of the state to promote international peace and security as well as maintain just and honourable relations between nations. In addition to this, it is also the duty of the state to ‘foster respect for international law and treaty’ and ‘encourage settlement of international disputes by arbitration’.
(ii) The extent of Executive Power of the Union (Article 73)
This article empowers the Executive to perform its authority, extend its jurisdiction and exercise its rights over matters which are agreed upon by the Government of India as a part of any international treaty.
(iii) Legislation for giving effect to International Agreements (Article 253)
This article empowers the Parliament to frame legislation for the whole country or any part of the country in order to implement the provisions of any international ‘treaty, agreement or convention’ to which India is a party to. It also gives authority to the Parliament to frame laws in order to execute any decisions made in any international conferences.
Over time the legislature has formulated a few policies to regulate space activities;
Satellite Communication Policy, 1997
This was a collaborative effort of three departments; the Department of Space, the Department of Telecommunication and the Department of Science and Technology. The policy majorly dealt with developing a “healthy and thriving communications service”. “Satellites, launch vehicles and ground equipment” were also the aim of the policy.
The important area of Communication through satellite would have expected an exhaustive legal framework; however, the policy barely consists of five points. It is not specific enough and only deals with broad topics making it an insufficient policy.
Satellite Communication Policy, 2000
The policy gives a framework for the establishment and operational procedures of the Indian Satellite Systems and assigns the Department of Space to be its authoritative head. It also makes rules for usage of INSAT (Indian National Satellite) by non-governmental organisations for commercial purposes.
Mechanisms for coordination with foreign satellite systems were not mentioned in the policy and the provisions severely restricted the use of foreign satellites for domestic purposes and on top of that the policy is silent on the usage of foreign satellites for international purposes.
Remote Sensing Data Policy, 2011
This act empowers the Government of India to be the sole and exclusive owner of all the data collected or received by the Indian Remote Sensing Satellites. Further rules are made for granting licences by the Government to those who wish to operate a remote sensing satellite from India. Such grant authority has been authorised to the Department of Space.
India’s legal framework for regulating space-related activities is based on the above-mentioned two policies which are by themselves not sufficient enough and not exhaustive enough to deal with the rapidly growing Space technologies in India.
These policies lack binding effects and there is no legal obligation attached to them to ensure the provisions are complied with. Private organizations have been left out by these policies.
Why does India need National Space Laws?
(i) Change of Objectives
Originally the country focused on developing its space programs for the sole purpose of national development. It included telecommunications and remote sensing satellites as a part of its space programs. Exploration of outer space was never its concern. However now, after the tremendous success of Chandrayaan 3 and Mangalyaan and many other projects India has achieved more than what it aimed. Now the country is moving forward on its way to outer space exploration and has sent many manned and unmanned missions to outer space. It makes the government responsible to formulate a set of rules which are exhaustive in nature to accommodate the next potential advances of the field.
(ii) India’s Self-sufficiency
There is a shift from dependency to self-sufficiency when it comes to launching objects into space. This self-sufficiency has led to cost-effectiveness and made many other countries sign agreements with India to support the launches and other activities of the respective country thus moving towards the commercialization of India’s Space industry. It now requires an exhaustive legal framework which would include torts, contracts, intellectual property rights, liability and insurance with reference to space activities.
A robust framework would further encourage and aid India’s foray into the commercialization of its Space Industry.
(iii) Space Debris
India found itself in the middle of a controversy where while returning to Earth, some space debris from an Indian satellite fell onto a village in Japan. As a part of the Convention on International Liability for Damages Caused by Space Objects, India was liable to pay damages. However, with no domestic laws to deal with this and hence it was difficult to determine the quantum of damages that are required to be paid. India also needs to deal with the liability of launching-aid systems which fall down during launch.
The entry of the private sector into the space race seems like the ultimate next step in the Indian scenario and the government seems ready to make provisions to let private entities into the space industry. Which makes it even more important for the legislative to frame a set of rules to regulate the conduct of space activities by private entities.
(v) Space Terrorism
Since a lot of privatisations has been occurring in terms of space activities worldwide, the threat of terrorism also increases. Just like India’s anti-terrorism laws for the land, measures for anti-space terrorism must also be taken by enacting provisions relating to space terrorism into its domestic space laws.
(vi) Space War
The USA already has provisions for US Space Force which acts under the US Air Force. Military and defence measures are to be taken care of by the Indian Government in order to be prepared for any kind of space war that might occur in future. Laws supporting the formation of such defence agencies are now a necessity. Without an apt framework, India would be left vulnerable in case any such scenarios arise.
(vii) Other Space activities
Apart from these, Space tourism and Space Mining are developing sectors that need to be focussed on. Though it might take years for successful tours and mining on celestial bodies and bringing back such material, it is important for the country to be prepared for the future.
Why is there a need for private entities in the Space Sector?
Apart from focusing on developing new technologies and innovative measures, ISRO has to perform many regular tasks such as launching satellites and constructing launch vehicles. These tasks, though regular, are heavily time-consuming. Therefore, ISRO plans to assign such regular tasks to private entities. Furthermore, the inclusion of private entities will be cost-effective for the space sector.
On 24 June 2020, the Government established IN-SPACe (Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre) to commercialize Indian space activities. It was due to the creation of this body that the debate around the privatisation of the Indian space programme had started.
The legislature is working on policies and bills which promote private entities in the space sector as well as will be considered the first steps towards codification of domestic or national space law for India:
(i) Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016
This Bill deals with granting of a licence for the usage of Indian geospatial information. It sets rules for fines in case of violations making it a binding provision. This Bill has the potential to become the first domestic legislation for outer space activities if it were to pass.
(ii) The Space Activities Bill, 2017
The Bill is a step towards the inclusion of private entities. It promotes the participation of private sectors in space pursuits under the authority of the Department of Space. It provides the procedure for granting a licence to those who want to carry out commercial space activities.
It also makes the central government responsible for registering all space objects as well as planning new missions with regard to outer space. The central government is required to supervise the space activities of India. It also provides a binding effect to the licensing requirements for private entities by making unlicensed commercial use liable for three years of imprisonment and also specifies fines for the same.
(iii) SpaceCom Policy 2020
There are two main aims of the SpaceCom Policy 2020. Firstly, the policy regulates the commercial usage of satellites, orbital slots and ground stations. Secondly, it makes provisions for the procedure to set up communication satellites and ground stations by private entities.
The policy realizes the importance of private entities in the development of space activities in India by keeping up with the demands of broadcasting and connectivity.
Humankind has only scratched the surface when it comes to outer space discovery and even then, it finds itself in uncharted waters on how an effective legislature can be developed to govern this development. While internationally a substantial framework of law has been created there still lies a vacuum for further advancement, there also lies a scope for more defined domestic space laws of the countries.
The Indian Legislature may not have yet felt the need to frame a national framework in order to regulate its space pursuits because for a few reasons like there is no involvement of the private sector when it comes to space. Another major reason could be the object behind India’s space missions.
As established earlier, originally the focus of the government was national development and did not consider sending missions that aimed at exploring outer space.
But the penetration of private entities into the Space sector is inevitable and necessary as it has been very well-proven in the west. India also needs a way to deal with its space debris problem. Furthermore, it needs to prepare itself for a future where Space terrorism and Space wars are a reality.
Hence it is very well evident that it now has become very important that India takes this race seriously and an adequate national framework is developed for the country’s future space forays which are equipped not only to handle the know pitfalls but with the potential to ace what is yet to be discovered.
By Dhruvisha Varma & Aishwarya Raval, 5th Year B.A. LL.B (Hons.), Faculty of Law, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara