Carlo Belbusti

Freedom and the militarisation of the cosmos

Continuing with the militarisation of the cosmos, the principle set out in Article I of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty is a harbinger of different interpretations, especially if it is related to recent technological changes, moreover, it does not seem to have given definition to borders for the time being. Article I of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty enshrines the freedom of exploration and use of outer space (and hence cosmic space), as well as celestial bodies, by all States, freedom of access to all areas of celestial bodies, and the freedom to carry out scientific research in space.

Article I of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty states that “The exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind. Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies. There shall be freedom of scientific investigation in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and States shall facilitate and encourage international cooperation in such investigation”.

First of all, talking about the militarisation of the cosmos, we must recognise the fact that these activities are often achievable only with a military contribution. In addition, we must come to terms with the initiatives undertaken by private companies of various countries. A significant example of how national military conduct can pose a threat to the cosmos is given by the U.S. 1961 Project West Ford: American aviation on that occasion, thanks to the Missile Defense Alarm System, or MIDAS, satellite, dispersed in outer space about three hundred and sixty million dipoles, with the goal of forming a sort of “protective ring” around the Earth, that would intercept enemy rockets, and military communications. Project West Ford was undoubtedly a clear example of an extremely harmful military space activity, capable of causing large-scale cosmic pollution among other things. This first phase of the project was unsuccessful, and for this reason, a second operation was launched in 1963, which finally succeeded in creating the “protective ring” around planet Earth. The project was considered completely outside the lines of space activities, and for this reason, received the condemnation of several States who feared that the initiative could have been a point of no return in regards to the use of outer space.

In this last regard, the Soviet Union considered the operation as something capable of negatively interfering with direct communications to spacecraft. One of the conclusions reached was concerning the international scientific community, and prior information before such initiatives commenced. Given this framework then, the principle of international law deserves consideration, States are obliged to prevent actions (committed by their entities or in their territory) that could prove to be adverse toward other States. This highlights the complexity of the principle of freedom and use of outer space, which constitutes the primary instrument for progress in this field. But at the same time, the concept of freedom in space law must not have negative consequences on other States. Projects such as the 1961 Project West Ford highlight a fundamental contrast, given that the two contexts (freedom of use and exploration of outer space, and respect for national integrity) are often not compatible. The freedom of use and exploration of outer space cannot be applied as a blanket statement for allowing the creation of military interception systems, which also pose threats of space debris, and the security of other States. For this reason, it is necessary to outline clear boundaries between the two areas, in order to avoid contradictions and alterations therein. Space exploration and the use of the cosmos is recognised by all States, and for this reason, the prohibition of undertaking risky operations represents a valid international duty of erga omnestowards all”. The corollary of this approach is Article IX of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty which declares that individual States are parties unto themselves, and as such, should carry out studies and explorations in outer space, the Moon, and other celestial bodies, taking appropriate measures so as to avoid pollution or changes to the terrestrial environment.

Article IX of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty states that “In the exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, States Parties to the Treaty shall be guided by the principle of cooperation and mutual assistance and shall conduct all their activities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, with due regard to the corresponding interests of all other States Parties to the Treaty. States Parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose. If a State Party to the Treaty has reason to believe that an activity or experiment planned by it or its nationals in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, would cause potentially harmful interference with activities of other States Parties in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, it shall undertake appropriate international consultations before proceeding with any such activity or experiment. A State Party to the Treaty which has reason to believe that an activity or experiment planned by another State Party in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, would cause potentially harmful interference with activities in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, may request consultation concerning the activity or experiment”.

The militarisation of the cosmos involves mainly two types of risk that seem to be interconnected: the first being that of a political nature, concerning relationships between States; and the second dealing principally with the environment (terrestrial and cosmic). In completing this picture, one cannot discount the importance of technological developments, which characterises the most important activities of any State; being fundamental at the international level for varying outcomes, and essential for the completion of military projects. Given the impossibility of clearly addressing all elements indicated (due to the vast number of States and objectives present in the international context), it would seem necessary to clearly identify the limits to the areas of application on the subject.

In addition, Article IX of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty provides that if a Member State has reason to believe that its space activities, or those of its national agencies, may interfere with those of other Member States, in regard to peaceful exploration and use of outer space, the State will have to carry out consultations. Likewise, such consultations may be requested by Member States to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, concerning the operations carried out by another Member State. It is important to highlight a subtle difference that characterises this rule: preliminary consultations must be carried out by the author State of the activity; other countries may only make a request to that effect. The fear of the above illustration, is that of Article IX of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty not being adequately respected in the case of national activities that, being risky, are essential for the purposes of a State. Article IX of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, therefore, setting the rules for the freedom of use and exploration of outer space, protects the latter from possible militarisation of the cosmos, and represents a standard for scientific and legal developments of the sector. Understanding cosmic space as a new dimension in warfare, results in its gradual annihilation and the annihilation of all scientific pursuits in this regard. That is what can be said concerning the militarisation of the cosmos.

The militarisation of celestial bodies

Let us look at the militarisation of celestial bodies. About thirty years ago, a part of the doctrine hypothesised the possibility of using celestial bodies as interplanetary stations. This eventuality goes hand in hand with the recognition of the exploration of the Moon and other celestial bodies mentioned in Article I of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. Although any kind of appropriation is inadmissible, fulfilment is allowed: one wonders what implications this discipline might entail, and once again, we could be faced with a gap capable of exposing risky conduct. According to the thesis in question, once the materials were extracted, they would lose any link with the celestial body they belonged to, they would also assume their own autonomy from a juridical point of view, and would even end up in the sphere of ownership of the State author of their extraction. Although, appropriation of celestial bodies is excluded, this could be realised by virtue of the fact that operations and extractions carried out would change the legal nature of the same.

Without investigating the possible links between the use of celestial bodies and military strategies, it is sufficient here to observe how this aspect is able to circumvent the prohibitions on the appropriation of the former, and even encourage the increase in their militarisation. If this line of thought were to be followed, whole portions of the territory could be separated from the rest and function as cosmic military bases, allowing the various space weapons to count on a wider network of supports. The prohibition under Article IV of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty sanctioned for weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons, does not seem suitable to completely preclude this possible type of conduct, given that currently, the transformations on the ground of a celestial body can be obtained thanks to weapons of various kinds, not subject to impediment. On the whole, therefore, this point of view is likely to lead to a rapid extension of militaristic space activities, giving rise to a vicious circle that would contribute to increasing the arms race in the cosmos. In addition, there is a lack of reassurance given from the theory that planets and meteorites should be excluded from the notion of the celestial body by the fact that the reference to the Moon in the space treaties, would make us understand how we refer only to bodies of the Universe having the same dimensional properties.

This interpretation would not reduce the risks deriving from a militarisation of the planets and thus, it must not be forgotten how many individuals consider this to be an outdated vision, considering the progress of spatial research. Nevertheless, there are some principles which, however vague in some respects, are capable of limiting a possible militarisation of celestial bodies, such as that of the respect for the environment (also applicable to the cosmos). Furthermore, Article IX of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty foreseeing no changes in the Earth’s environment due to material coming from space, and that the exploration of the Moon and other celestial bodies cannot lead to their contamination. Additionally, other principles contained both in the aforementioned treaty and in the 1979 Moon Agreement, such as the exploration and use of celestial space and bodies for peaceful purposes in the interest of humanity and with the intention of promoting peace, security and international cooperation are examples of the aforementioned principles.

Because of the debates on the definition of a celestial body, the set of rules applicable to them appears to be rather indeterminate, if only because of the lack of uniformity that instead characterises open space. In the category of celestial bodies, depending on the type of definition carried out, they can in fact include meteorites, comets, cosmic dust, planets, moons… All these components, however, have different peculiarities and cannot be the recipients of a homogeneous discipline. Hence, the duty to formulate a more detailed regulation with respect to that dictated for the cosmos, precisely because of the specificities of the different celestial bodies. Looking at the results recently achieved, projects such as that of Rosetta, a space probe built by the European Space Agency (ESA), indicate that now space operations can be carried out even on bodies of mass less than the Moon and consequently, the thesis stating space rights of celestial bodies is only given to bodies with similar dimensions of the Moon, must now be definitively abandoned.

From a future perspective, the possibility of carrying out operations on comets and similar bodies, could extend the panorama of military actions: in this case, the current law would not be able to include such initiatives, requiring an ad hoc regime. We have already mentioned how the development of science and technology influences that of space law; if there is no awareness that the expansion of the first two will inevitably lead to more specific space military operations, it will end up being an escape route for countries willing to take military actions in the cosmos, allowing it to circumvent the bans currently in force. With a bit of foresight, it is possible to understand how Rosetta-type missions are likely to arouse the interest of States to experience their offensive potential in places of the cosmos never before explored, turning them into strategic war outposts.

Moreover, the problem of opposition between soft and hard law is present: which of the two regimes possess the most appropriate characteristics for celestial bodies? Given the divergence of disciplines in some respects between the latter and the open space, is it possible to imagine a dual system involving the application of the two branches to different areas of the cosmos? Keeping in mind the considerations illustrated on celestial bodies and the regulatory gaps that characterise them, it would be preferable to adopt a hard law approach at least to mitigate the risks deriving from a possible modification of their nature. Such a hard law approach would have a binding nature, there would be a high degree of irreversibility and less space would be given to the possibility of comparisons, dialogues and modifications. At present it is considered advisable to take this approach, if only because it can provide greater guarantees in terms of protection of the space environment. In other words, the binding nature of the hard law approach would prevent the deficiencies of space law from being exploited to the point of justifying imprudent conduct capable of completely transforming the way of understanding the cosmos. The security of space and celestial bodies then depends on the coordinated behaviour of the different players operating on the scene: there are in fact many States and organisations that play a role in this field and, in addition to having to act in concert, will have to disclose the character of their initiatives in the most transparent way possible.

In fact, prior knowledge of the actions of others is a fundamental criterion for maintaining equilibrium in the outer space context. If, for example, some random characteristics of an operation were to be revealed only after or during its development, this would undoubtedly affect self-defense and the activities of others, directing them towards greater secrecy and hostility. In this case then, the process necessary to change course would not be short due to factors such as the life of the space equipment and the huge costs to be borne: if, for example, a State sent into orbit or on a celestial body a machine considered a threat to other countries, it would essentially have three steps to retrace in order to reassure the rest of the international community. It would have to bring it back to the ground ahead of schedule (bearing additional costs), destroy it (creating yet more space debris and in general, affecting the cosmic environment) or end the program ahead of time. In this last hypothesis, besides the economic losses, the other States, continuing to perceive a threat to their own safety, fearing that the equipment could come into operation at any time, could protect themselves with defensive military actions. Hence the subtraction of time and resources from the use of space for research and cooperation purposes. This threat is most felt on celestial bodies because their eventual militarisation would create structures that are probably permanent and therefore more difficult to remove than the hypothesis of open space. Also, the distance of these bodies from Earth, being greater than that between our planet and the systems orbiting around, could help alleviate the feeling of danger and therefore disincentive its demilitarisation.

In the current case of the militarisation of celestial bodies, the proximity of the equipment to Earth’s orbit involves a greater degree of attention and discipline on the part of the States that manage it. To this, is added a high degree of surveillance of the same by the dense network of terrestrial and satellite devices. These conditions could hardly be replicated in the case of weapons being placed on or near celestial bodies that are far from Earth: this “isolation” could result in a lower consideration towards them or the possibility for nations to develop them sheltered from pressure. The possibility of an “all-encompassing militarisation”, which aims to prevent the isolation described with regard to weapons on celestial bodies, would increase the preventive protection of States, which to control equipment on celestial bodies, would send their machines into orbit and therefore in reality, create a much greater number of space war devices with monitoring and defense functions in case of attacks by others. This would in turn lead to a far greater disequilibrium than the current context, translating all of this into a step backwards from varying points of view. Current space law, which already has some shortcomings, must therefore be given more detail and strictness in order to avoid this outcome. The outcomes on the protection of the cosmos, once obtained, must be continually defended, and one of the ways to do so is to be aware that the goals achieved in the future in the space field will have repercussions on terrestrial and interplanetary militarisation.

An interview with Dr. Maria Costanzo

The interview concerns Dr. Maria Costanzo, Solution Engineers & Innovation Director of Oracle Italia, who illustrated the potential of Big Data, Oracle’s innovative solutions and some common points that this field presents with the Space Economy. Oracle Corporation is a software company operating in the field of software, data management, cloud solutions and database optimisation.

Dr. Maria Costanzo, can you give us an initial overview of Big Data and the role of Oracle Italy?

I consider extremely interesting the fact that big data can put together a large amount of information, which, although apparently unrelated to the beginning, once united in a single environment reveals repetitive patterns that were not identifiable before. This new approach paves the way for new discoveries, not only scientific ones, but others that cover the most disparate sectors as well: the quantity of data provides solutions which would be impossible to reach by observing the single data belonging to a specific device.

Therefore, the most important value of big data and the acquisition of information within analytical platforms is being able to identify hidden information deriving from the crossing of heterogeneous data.

Another key element is represented by the introduction and use of artificial intelligence technologies: in this regard, Oracle can provide significant support because in our Cloud platforms we have made available technologies that allow extremely advanced processing (GPU) functional to the elaboration and the training of complex artificial intelligence algorithms (i.e. neural networks, deep learning). One of the most interesting aspects in this regard, is given by the ability to process intelligence from this information without limiting itself to their simple observation: when we talk about augmented analytics in fact, we refer to the ability to be able to increase the value of the data, extracting new information deriving from their processing.

In terms of data management solutions, the company is moving towards the forefront of data management. In fact, the solutions promoted by Oracle in this field represent absolute excellence. The extra step Oracle took was to use artificial intelligence to make sure that the use of this excellence was available to everyone. Specifically, if a system self-manages and is also able to protect itself against cyber-attacks, surely the system reduces the level of risk and simplifies the level of management. This autonomy allows technicians to dedicate their activities to more relevant tasks, leaving the database to work alone on its management.

In this perspective, I therefore see Oracle’s Autonomous Database as a simplifier and as an accelerator. The security guaranteed by our Autonomous Database can be fundamental for the protection of data collected by satellites for military use. The solutions in which Oracle is significantly investing are security and AI: the Autonomous DB can generally be defined as a simplifying tool that, through AI, exploits all our know-how over the last forty years on data management to ensure that the security levels are extremely high and the DB is able to “defend itself”.

In this historical period, we have to deal with a growing data volume, and this requires an extremely agile environment in developing solutions suitable for their processing. In this sense, a Cloud environment represents the most effective solution for information management: in this case, the solutions that Oracle makes available to customers are designed to allow horizontal scalability when they are used, so there are no limits to the amount of data that can be processed (even) in real time.

Once elaborated patterns of AI algorithms are identified, another strength is represented by the application of this knowledge in real time, during the progressive data collection. This makes it possible to make the data “actionable” as they are collected, and to have an immediate result with respect to the information that arrives. To achieve this, we need extremely high processing capabilities that Oracle makes available with its own technology.

Dr. Maria Costanzo, what is actionable data?

In the moment in which a datum is acquired and it is elaborated through an algorithm, a “meaning” of the data is obtained: to that point it is necessary to apply such algorithm to the new data that will be acquired. This process is useful for classifying information received in real time, because it eliminates the need to process it later. This method therefore makes it possible to increase the speed of data interpretation precisely because this speed takes advantage of the analytical technologies made available in the initial phase of processing the first data collected.

Dr. Maria Costanzo, what role does Oracle marketing cloud play in all this?

Part of our SaaS offer, it’s the most effective tool for the dissemination of scientific information.

Dr. Maria Costanzo, how does one connect the usefulness of these systems to everyday life? What are the methods to be adopted to make the citizen understand the usefulness of this data?

The data processing process is currently seen as a derivative that is very distant from the benefits that reach the end users. What the end user perceives is a sort of “simplification” of one’s life or work activity. At present there is not yet a full awareness of the fundamental nature of data processing. From a general point of view, I feel I can say that big data helps to have a better level of visibility on what is happening, and therefore allows us to make more efficient decisions. When we begin to examine the “nuances” through detailed and large-scale analyses, the differences and details can be better identified. These last two factors allow us to make more precise decisions. Data analysis can be defined as a huge magnifying glass on something that we normally see in a much lower quality. Thanks to this enlargement, the details are identified and we start to understand how the correlations that are the basis of various phenomena, unfold. In reality they foresee many other causes that up to that moment had not been taken in consideration.

Can we therefore say that the intersection of different data leads to the discovery of a tertium genus of data?

Certainly. In this regard, there was a case where one of our customers had developed algorithms to increase their business. Algorithms were already precise in their own right, but could not increase business: the problem did not lie in the algorithm (this was already well structured) but in the fact that the information on which the forecasts were based was not sufficient. Only when other data was collected from sources, apparently not linked to that specific business phenomenon, did the system began to change its points of reference. In fact, drawing on new data sets, the indicators that were able to influence the phenomenon turned out to be different from those we originally thought would be. We then realised how other elements, initially not considered, were able to influence the phenomenon.

This is the true value of a data driven action: the more data that is put together, even if they are not necessarily correlated with each other, the greater the probability of expanding the ability to view detail and knowledge of a phenomenon through correlations that they escape the human mind but not the technologies. This process is not uniform and limited, on the contrary it is advisable to enrich the data sets more and more (to understand the factors that contribute to the data analysis phenomenon).

So data could be defined as a kind of hidden truth machine?

Yes, data can reveal everything about different phenomena. Personally, I think the open and free data policy is particularly stimulating: the greater the interaction between data belonging to different bodies and structures, the greater is the level of information that results. Proceeding in this direction, we will probably discover aspects that until now have been unimaginable. Nowadays data has become a real value, it is becoming an essential element, to the point of being able to be listed on the stock exchange as a private asset of a company. But it is necessary to go beyond this type of perspective: the data must be something totally available, because it is able to increase information and therefore promote knowledge.

Dr. Maria Costanzo, in this sense, can we hypothesise a social function of the data?

Certainly. But we must always remember that data is so powerful that it can also result in negative uses, and at that point an ethical problem arises. The real problem lies precisely in a possible incorrect use that can be made of the data. For example, I refer to influences on political decisions through the manipulation of the masses of information. There may also be cases in which the structure of the data sets on which the algorithms are based lead them to discriminate: some features of the social context could in fact lead to algorithms for exclusions and / or discrimination (i.e. failure to grant loans to people of a certain race or a certain sex). In conclusion, extreme automation is a crucial factor, but we must then process the information in the correct way to avoid it being amplified, through AI; which is an anomaly that instead is present as a social phenomenon.

Dr. Maria Costanzo, what are the policies that Oracle is adopting with regards to this correct and ethical data management?

The entire information management aspect also includes a data preparation phase, so that it can then be used for analytical or scientific purposes, such as data security management and governance. The use of AI for the Oracle Autonomous Database is based on data concerning the knowledge of the management of a database for which the decisions taken are taken based on the type of use that is made of the Database: this in an automation of automatic processes able to save a Database administrator’s time and work.

The Oracle Autonomous Database hinges on the concept of automated optimisation. What are the features of this concept?

The Autonomous DB makes the machines perform repetitive repair, updating and maintenance tasks, reserving the most valuable activities for humans, especially on the subject of safety. In eighty-five per cent of the attacks, in fact, the patches useful for guaranteeing invulnerability are already available, but the problem is that they have not yet been installed for issues related to the human component (delays, priorities, forgetfulness, etc.). Machine learning instead, in addition to providing a high level of vigilance, is able to guarantee that the software is always up to date; in this sense, thanks to automation, the factor of human error is eliminated.

An analogous situation occurs if the system deems to have an unsuitable functioning: when a request for information is made to the Database, it takes a certain path whose speed varies according to the degree of optimisation. The system is able to understand the types of research carried out and is able to learn from these. Through learning it will suggest the best paths to ensure that the answer arrives as quickly as possible, and all this is done in total autonomy. The system therefore learns through the use made by the user and optimises itself independently to guarantee the best performance based on the use of each specific user. In this way the system increasingly eliminates human intervention.

Dr. Maria Costanzo, what will Oracle’s future challenges for data management be?

The fundamental tasks of the company are those of AI and security. These two factors are crucial because we want to be able to provide our users with safe solutions. Considering that the data has enormous value and is placed in cloud platforms, we must guarantee our customers absolute security. We are working on different fields, including prevention of cyber-attacks.

Moreover, when it comes to Cloud solutions, the problem is no longer confined to the home but becomes global. The storage of information on the Cloud can arouse fear, especially if this information is sensitive. In this case the customer wants absolute guarantees that the information residing in distant places and managed by third parties is protected and any distorted uses of the same are avoided. In this perspective, all companies are beginning asked to make extremely strict security claims, and it is right that this is the case. Oracle is working hard to ensure the highest security standards. It is essential to adopt a conscientious data management, as the ethical component in this field is becoming increasingly important.

Carlo Belbusti holds a Master’s Degree in Law from Roma Tre University. He also attended a Postgraduate course in space law and policies at the Italian Society for the International Organization.

Space weapons, satellites and anti-satellite systems

Let’s have a look at space weapons, satellites and anti-satellite systems. One of the first problems to be addressed in the analysis of satellites is the definition of a spatial object. According to the type of definition, different consequences derive from the responsibility of states, compensation, etc. According to a certain definition, “an aerospace object refers to any object able to travel in the outer space by aerodynamic properties and to remain in the airspace for a certain amount of time”. One of the first uncertainties of this description refers to the aerodynamic properties: must aerospace objects have their own aerodynamic characteristics or can they also be part of another object that acts as their propeller? Following the first assumption, a satellite would not be considered a spatial object, on the contrary if one accepts the second statement (for example a satellite carried in space by a rocket), it would once again fall into the category.

This and many other doubts increase the debate on the most suitable rules for aerospace objects and make the drafting of a specific treaty on the subject increasingly urgent. This draft involves the problem of which set of rules apply between spatial rights (hence in the first case the Liability Convention) and the aeronautical law (therefore in this case, the Warsaw Convention for example). Another concept on the subject that deserves to be quoted is the Indian perspective: “aerospace objects in airspace are considered as aircraft, and while when in outer space as spacecraft with all the legal consequences that follow as regards questions of safety and liability, the higher standards should apply”. “However, where the passage through airspace is part of a direct and continuous journey to or from outer space, the object should be considered as a spacecraft”.

It is also important to underline that in this regard, although aviation law does not require the element of fault for compensation, in the event of damage caused elsewhere than the Earth’s surface, a spatial object of a launch state or persons or goods on board such object, from a spatial object of another launching state, the element of fault is required.

In addition, the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) policy of first come first served showed its weaknesses and is not balanced in the sense that it “mortgages the interest of the majority of states to have access to the geostationary orbit and may particularly affect the inherent interests of the equatorial states to that orbit”. To this must be added that perhaps not much attention was given to the ITU Convention of 1973 which among other things states that “Members shall bear in mind that radio frequencies and geostationary orbits are limited resources”. Eight equatorial states have in fact shown their reluctance to the ITU rules by adopting the Bogotá Declaration with which they claimed (illegitimately) the ownership of the geostationary orbit due to the fact that it was above their territories.

The framework described must also come to terms with the new economies of countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, China, and the latter factor could introduce changes, in the current system of access to space and optics of space military activities. The countries mentioned could indeed heavily influence space operations and the concept of “space war”. The geostationary orbit is a strategic place for objectives that address military needs, security, telecommunications, meteorology, etc. In this regard, the increase in political, economic, and military events has led to a robust growth in the use of satellites over the years. The first obstacle to this expansion is the fact that only a limited number of devices can be used in this orbit. In addition to this, the satellites have to work at a certain distance in order to avoid collisions, which can give rise to disputes. As a result, satellites as well as instruments of war, could be seen as the reason for a conflict.

The geostationary orbit, like celestial bodies, is in an area excluded from state jurisdiction and therefore follows the principle of non-appropriation; this is why, among other things, the impossibility of considering the Bogotá Declaration legitimate. Article 12 of the ITU Convention reiterates the “rational, equitable, efficient and economical use of the radio frequency spectrum by all radio communication services, including those using the geostationary-satellite or other satellite orbits”. Respect for equal access to frequencies and parameters must be ensured by the radio communication sector. The limited use that can be made of the geostationary orbit thus introduces a scenario of equality, where each state must respect the right of other countries to use frequencies, regardless of economic power or political weight. This is another aspect that differentiates outer space from Earth: in this case, in fact, the power of a nation is not detected in orbit.

On the question then, article 44 of the ITU Convention states that in ensuring equal access to frequencies in orbit, the needs of developing countries and the geographical situation must be taken into account. The attempt to establish a more solid scheme is then carried out by article 13, which introduces the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly, charged with managing the principles of equality in this sector. The end result is a wide-ranging egalitarian environment among nations. Recalling that satellite operations are used for different purposes, the picture described could affect international military balances. If every state has the same right to use geostationary frequencies, the power of terrestrial forces will be partly or totally irrelevant in the spatial scenario and this means that even a small nation could pose a threat to stronger powers.

Once again it is undeniable how cosmic space follows a regime of rules different from those of earthly ones. As mentioned, the dangers related to satellites can be multiple: there are two episodes that have shown the consequences that their use can bring: in January 2007, China conducted an ASAT test destroying its Fengyun-1C satellite, and in February 2009, there was a collision between the non-operational Russian satellite Cosmos 2251 and the American (functioning) satellite Iridium-33. From these two events, it was clear that the problem of space debris had to be seriously tackled and how satellites and space weapon systems have different negative implications; the focus was on debris “coming from platforms with nuclear power sources in outer space”.

On the other hand, the importance of satellites proved to be fundamental for modern warfare during the operation “Iraqi Freedom” where the transmission of data, the launch of twenty-six rockets, and the use of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) were space platforms. Considering that article 4 of the Space Treaty prohibits the sending of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction into orbit, any military activity that does not involve the use of these two types of weapons and is compatible with international law and the principles of the United Nations, is to be considered authorised. Despite this, some of the non-nuclear weapons require nuclear energy to be operational, such as the X-ray laser. According to the US approach to the problem, each attack (regardless of the type of weapon used) directed at an American spacecraft is to be considered a violation of the sovereignty of the state, and consequently, any action aimed at protecting national security should be allowed.

This attitude, in addition to introducing a sort of arbitrariness in spatial conflicts (essentially, the United States of America could have responded with a nuclear weapon to an attack generated from a weapon of a different and less powerful classification), represents a change in the way of understanding outer space, as the approach that completely prohibited any military operation in the cosmos was rejected.

Space weapons can be qualified according to the following system: the first category concerns the case in which space is the environment in which the destructive effect is produced, and includes Earth-space, air-space, and space-space weapons. In the second category, space is instead the place where weapons are placed: here we find space-air, space-sea, space-to-Earth, and space-space weapons. No space weapon has so far been tested in the cosmos but the United States of America has invested billions of dollars in the development of a space interceptor (Brilliant Pebbles) and tested targeting and propulsion systems for that system. The framework outlined above shows how the expansion of the race for space militarisation has increased the risks of a “global holocaust”, conflicts of interest, and of the negative impact on the environment.

The definition of a “space weapon” is variable due to the technological innovations that follow each other. The first three weapons to be analysed are: the MOBS, the FOBS and the orbiting laboratories with personnel on board. The MOBS (Multiple Orbital Bombardment System) is a spacecraft with nuclear warheads designed to orbit the Earth and monitor land conflicts. There are many reasons why this system was considered illegitimate: first of all, it is in clear contrast with article 4 of The Outer Space Treaty. It is also able to negatively influence international relations due to the possibility of generating unlimited damages.

The FOBS (Fractional Orbital Bombardment System) was part of the Soviet Cosmos project and was designed to attack targets via land vehicles that should have been sent into orbit. This last system did not conflict with article 4: as the United States of America recognised, in fact, the FOBS was contrary to the spirit, but not to the letter of the aforementioned provision. As for the laboratories orbiting around the Earth with human personnel on board, these have always been a primary objective of the United States of America and the Soviet Union since the first space missions, as they considered them a fundamental component to increase their military power in the cosmos.

Before The Outer Space Treaty came into force, the only legal instrument was the UN Resolution 1884 (1963), which appeared to be too weak. Sensing the threat of Soviet space stations, the United States of America gave life to several projects to protect its national security, such as the MOL (Manned Orbital Laboratory) which carried out various types of military operations. On the Soviet side, research and missions were carried out through the Salyut space station, and the Soyuz and Progress spacecraft: this led the Americans to develop the Skylab program.

Without a shadow of a doubt, these space stations, in addition to important scientific purposes, also played military and defensive functions: this is the aspect of “dual use” which is currently one of the most perceived problems in space law and extends to satellites. Research and progress are two fundamental components and outer space is the best scenario for their expansion, but every step taken in this direction is put at risk by the potentially harmful consequences that could derive from military actions. Continuing this thought, there seems to be a connection between the scientific and military objectives, because without the latter there would probably not be the same level of interest for the former and, in addition, scientific and technological discoveries lead to an improvement of military strategies. In this sense, scientific and technological progress can be considered a consequence of military actions or something that is “fuelled” by the latter.

In reference to defensive space operations, the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) was considered the most important system of its type. Many doctrinal opinions have defined ABM systems as the tools most likely to endanger peaceful coexistence in space and in international relations. These systems contained two main groups of weapons that can be defined as the predecessors of current space weapons: direct energy weapons and kinetic energy weapons. The first category includes radio frequency weapons, subatomic particle weapons, and laser weapons. Radio frequency weapons strike their target through electromagnetic fields, damaging the electronic system. Subatomic particle weapons aim at the physical destruction of the target through a large number of particles. This type of weapon can fall into the ASAT class, by virtue of its ability to neutralise and destroy enemy satellites. Instead, laser weapons direct electromagnetic radiation against the target, generating fusion. Experiments in this direction were undertaken by the United States of America during the MIRACL (Mid Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser) program.

As for kinetic energy weapons, their aim is to develop new attack strategies without using nuclear energy. An example of how this weapon has developed over the years, is given by the ERIS test where an American interceptor missile was launched and after a one hundred kilometres trajectory hit another carrier carrying a nuclear warhead. The ERIS (Exoatmospheric Re-entry Vehicle Interceptor System) was a new step in weapons technology: thanks to this technique, it was possible to safeguard a larger part of a given territory and react with greater precision to space weapons. Another project worth mentioning is the rail gun; an electromagnetic gun that could be installed on spacecraft, an object of study by the USA and the ex-Soviet Union. The space weapons considered until now do not involve the use of nuclear energy and are not weapons of mass destruction, so they do not fall under the prohibition of article 4 in the Outer Space Treaty. However, it is very likely that they can generate the same damaging consequences as a nuclear weapon.

The only way to prevent article 4, from this point of view, from constituting an empty provision; is a collective commitment by states aimed at updating international and national law on space and the discipline of space weapons. If this does not happen, the provisions on the topic will be bypassed, giving way to a militarisation of uncontrolled space. It must be remembered in any case, that this objective is not easy to achieve due to the various possibilities of application of technologies; in particular one of the main problems once again, is the double use of satellites and space equipment. It is therefore necessary to increase the commitment considering that until now, states have not been fully available to collaborate, and that, as previously mentioned, international law and other legal instruments on the matter still appear weak and incomplete on several fronts.

Carlo Belbusti holds a Master’s Degree in Law from Roma Tre University. He also attended a Postgraduate course in space law and policies at the Italian Society for the International Organization.

Remote sensing, the dual use of satellites and the impact on the environment

There are several questions arising from remote sensing operations, and these too often represent a threat to state sovereignty and territorial control. Moreover, regarding the military or civil uses of a satellite, the required technologies are the same, the only difference being their use. Dual use is therefore beneficial for states that do not have sufficient funds and resources to develop civil and military space programs separately, leading to an increase in the number of players in this context. However, the double use has negative sides: a satellite of this type becomes in fact an objective to be neutralized in case of conflict, also involving the annihilation of the precious results obtained in the civil field (meteorology, remote sensing for protection against natural disasters, security, etc.).

It is useful here to remember Cheng’s thought that “A state’s territory is a castle. No one is allowed to enter it without its permission… the arrival of space age was as opening up an ant-hill with all the ants inside scurrying round wondering how to cover themselves and their secrets and stores”. This is one of the effects of space technologies and remote sensing: the relevance of a state’s terrestrial military power is reduced to zero due to the possibility of knowing the opposing strategies in advance thanks to the collection of data from space. Another consequence is the rush to remote sensing, because sending a satellite around the Earth also means substantially increasing the influence and power of a nation by acquiring elements related to the opposing strategies. Remote sensing can also be carried out through shared agreements between states or states and private companies, although in this case the risk is having activities that go beyond the limits of the agreements. It is in any case clear that the clandestine collection of data must be considered prohibited on the basis that international law protects the privacy and secrecy of state information.

In fact, the norms of International Law favour the protection of sovereignty and privacy: an example is offered here by Article 40 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC): according to its discipline “During transit passage, foreign ships, including marine scientific research and hydrographic survey ships, may not carry out any research or survey activities without the prior authorization of the States bordering straits”. This article clearly shows the position of international organizations on the subject and that if such activities are strictly prohibited, they cannot be carried out in outer space. State sovereignty remains therefore one of the essential elements to be protected, but in doing so, international laws need to be reviewed and updated due to the increase in remote sensing and rapid technological progress. The issue of clandestine remote sensing activities can be examined by focusing on two main factors: land security and espionage related to natural resources, the environment, agriculture, etc.

Articles 55 and 56 of the Charter of the United Nations provide a useful point of reflection in this regard: first stating that: “With a view of the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations, the United Nations shall promote conditions of economic and social progress and development solutions of international economic, social, health and related problems”. The second declaring that “All members pledge themselves to take joint and separate action in co-operation with the Organization for the achievement of the purposes set in article 55”. In these provisions, among other things, there is the clear intention to undertake a peaceful use of space as well as, including data collected through satellites, which are therefore basic for the economic and social progress of the states and the international community. There is considerable importance to the role played by the specialized agencies of the United Nations, such as the ITU, the WMO (World Meteorological Organization) and the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization), which could assume a predominant role in the management and supervision of such data collection operations.

The question of the legitimacy of space espionage is also linked to a query: are satellites placed in an international or national “type” of outer space? (referring to the second hypothesis to the state of origin of the equipment). The dominant opinion advocates for the management of remote sensing operations in a way that does not have to be hostile to the states and therefore does not lead to generating tensions between them. Naturally, the measures adopted by nations must be compatible with the UN Charter, which means that they cannot be modelled exclusively on the domestic context, otherwise being arbitrary. Observation for military purposes, as is well known, an inevitable component of the current international framework and the best way to deal with this situation is to return to the principles of the United Nations Charter: Article 74, for example, provides that member states base their attitude of respect towards the territory “on the general principle of good neighbourliness due account being taken of the interests and well-being of the rest of the world, in social, economic, and commercial matters”.

This is another element that contributes to defining the illegitimacy of clandestine remote sensing and that, among other things, helps to make the borderline between authorized and forbidden space activities (with particular interest for those of a military nature) less blurry. Although there are no specific customary rules of international law that prohibit space espionage, these initiatives cannot simply fall into the category of those allowed. In this regard, in fact, the treaties on space support peaceful purposes and every decision on the matter must be adopted by observing the balance between nations; also noting that, international jurisprudence prohibits clandestine remote sensing. Therefore, the new picture illustrated undermines one of the most important characteristics of states, that being sovereignty. With this in mind, only a transparent and articulated set of rules can be the key to safeguarding the authority of the countries, in an international context of peaceful coexistence.

In closing, until now the idea of ​​an “international surveillance agency for satellites” has been rejected and one of the reasons for the refusal is the fact that a body that deliberates by a majority view cannot do so for sensitive issues concerning space. In this sense, greater support from the ITU could be considered desirable. Scientific observation are instead free (for example satellites that collect meteorological information or on the geographical features of the territory) even if nations complain about violations of the principle of state sovereignty over natural resources: information on their territory is known in advance from other countries.

The number of states that carry out space activities and have access to the cosmos has increased in recent years. At the end of 2005, in fact, with the support of Russia, Iran became the forty-third state with the launch of its first satellite. In investigating how the problems deriving from space pollution are linked to cosmic militarization, we must analyse radiological pollution. The electromagnetic waves deriving from equipment (military, civil and dual-use) positioned in outer space, in fact, interfere with satellites and observation systems, with the risk of causing considerable damage to the continuation of activities. Nuclear charges are also sources of radioactive contamination and the collision between these and space debris could have devastating consequences. Another cause is the disintegration or failure of launches of space objects carrying nuclear energy. One of the best known incidents dates back to 1978, when the Soviet satellite Kosmos 954 due to a malfunction, upon re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, released nuclear debris in Canada.

The problem arises under other guises in open space: for nuclear-powered satellites, gamma rays are emitted capable of causing damage to the observation from space. This also includes nuclear debris. The five main documents of space law do not say much about the environmental problem and its connections with militarization. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty introduces the freedom of use and exploration of the cosmos and provides free access to the different areas of celestial bodies; this possibility could be compromised due to spatial pollution. As already stated above, Article IV prohibits the stationing of objects in space which carry nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction and reserves the use of celestial bodies for peaceful purposes only.

Article IX requires states to conduct their activities in the cosmos, on the Moon, and on other celestial bodies, in order to avoid contamination and changes in the terrestrial environment caused by the introduction of material coming from space, adopting appropriate measures in this sense if necessary. However, the article only takes into account the environmental changes deriving from extraterrestrial material (so-called back-contamination), moreover the notion of appropriate measures is completely remitted to the discretion of the states. Furthermore, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty does not provide a clear definition of “dangerous contamination” and “unfavourable changes” in the environment.

Article IX calls for the conducting of space activities while respecting the interests of other States parties to the Treaty: in this sense, a state can carry out specific consultations before launching projects that could be harmful. The aforementioned consultations may also be carried out by another member country if it has reason to believe that the initiative of others is risky. Nevertheless, the consultations do not allow the prevention of the activity, nor do they lead to binding results. Moreover, the states are often reluctant to carry out such consultations because in this way, they can always say that they were not aware of the dangers of their initiative.

Carlo Belbusti holds a Master’s Degree in Law from Roma Tre University. He also attended a Postgraduate course in space law and policies at the Italian Society for the International Organization.

Industrial commitments on legal aspects of active debris removal

Among the several issues related to the space activities, the one concerning the space debris removal has now become one of the most urgent to address: due to the development that the space sector is currently living, the number of space objects orbiting around our planet is likely to increase and threaten not only the terrestrial environment, but also the safety of the present and future space activities. The juridical scenario is still incomplete, lacking for instance a definition of the term “space object”. Furthermore, there are no clear prohibitions regarding debris and space pollution, meaning that private companies do not have to respect any environmental or juridical binding limit while carrying on their space missions.

Nevertheless, there are various initiatives arising from the industrial sector tackling the space pollution issue: the high number of space debris in fact, might represent a tough hurdle for the development of the private space projects by making numerous orbits inaccessible. The present work analyses the industrial progresses in this field in along with the rules and the future needs of the juridical community.

Space Debris Mitigation

A wide access for everyone to space could lead to a significant increase of space debris, making outer space activities less safe than they are at the current state: this critical scenario would also introduce additional safety-related costs and eventually augment general costs and eventually undermining space project developments. This factor would deter actors from investing, lead to a decrease of the industrial commitment in this field and eventually mortify all of the scientific, technological and humanitarian goals related to space.

The SDM market is living an expansion phase: the increase rate involves 3 438 satellites within a 9 years period (2016-2025) that will be accessible to European suppliers (343 satellites per year). The accessible market will continue to grow, covering the 87% of the total market by 2021 (1790 satellites) and up to 93% of it from 2021 on (1648 satellites).

The most promising area within the SDM Market is that of the EOL disposal manoeuvre solutions (300 million euros), in along with the Design for Demise area (142 million euros), and the passivation area (18 million euros). The approximate value of the Design for Demise swings around 450 million euros up to 2025, because they would also be part of commercial missions (such as large constellations). In consideration of this scenario, it would be appropriate to trigger institutional investments so to decrease the cost impact of SDM and Design for Demise Solutions. Passivation technologies will also gain a significant role in the market, in particular within the GEO market segment; for this reason it would be adequate to promote new forms of communalities regarding technologies.

The European demand for satellites is mainly governmental and it is diffused among several satellite operators. ESA, the European Union and France will administer more than fifteen satellites each. The space debris mitigation issue has been taken into account by national space laws, however there is still a very limited technology close to market worldwide, leading this to an urgent need and a high demand for SDM commercial compliant solutions. With regard to the development of new uncontrolled re-entry systems, in Europe passive deorbit devices are already close to market or even implemented in-orbit. Space debris mitigation represents a highly promising market, nonetheless, due to the high market demand, there is the need to translate the European knowledge into industrial products. In addition to this, also passivation technologies have a high market potential in which European solutions play a leading role and developments are needed.

In order to support future removal missions, Design projects for removal are under study in Europe and tools to calculate the end of life reliability of satellites are key to support and implement the space debris mitigation plans. The following tools and features are crucial to develop a system able to predict the end of life of satellites: remaining life-time, remaining reliability, collision risks, break-up, demise ability and re-entry needs to be enhanced, harmonized and standardized. A European shared database including the test results of the deorbit and re-entry behaviour is required and it shall be at the disposal of the European entities such as Industry, Agencies and research centres.

Maintaining the SDM framework constantly up to date is also essential: the current scenario regarding the Space Debris Mitigation shall be reviewed in order to identify any possible adaptation to the future large constellations including CubeSats, nanosats, microsats and minisats. This process requires a strong participation where European Member States and European entities interact together in order to enhance the existing industrial initiatives and to promote more binding solutions from a legal perspectives.

Controlled re-entry support systems

The optimization of controlled-re-entry systems presents a wide variety of opportunities, also for other applications which can broad the potential of the market: this kind of systems is necessary for medium and large missions, in particular optical ones. However, the existing building blocks don’t have already an acceptable readiness level in order to reach the goal, therefore an increase of the existing technology shall be promoted, so that a wider range of their application becomes feasible.

Deorbiting technologies within the European Market

The European space sector has developed key knowledge and technical competences in the areas of SDM so far: this effort might result in a promising and strong potential to open new markets for the European industry at integrator and supplier level.

A critical hurdle concerning space debris mitigation is the present difference between the numerous efforts being made by European nations to adopt legal measures, enforce the SDM requirements, develop cutting-edge competences and the lack of close to market technology; this being the main reason why the SDM sector seems to be far from having practical solutions able to revolutionize the industrial field. It is therefore necessary to highlight worldwide, in papers and legal documents, the urgency to fill this gap between technical knowledge and the inability to make solutions quickly reach the market and become operative.

The European includes several promising opportunities with regard to the de-orbiting technologies. European countries are leader in terms of knowledge, but it is still difficult to translate this know how into a real production of market goods. In order to improve the reliability of the de-orbiting manoeuvres and increase the passive or active satellites decommissioning devices, it is highly recommended to develop a series of products and place them on the market in along with an analysis of the related risks. Due to the ongoing nanosats projects, the number of space objects in space will drastically increase; future satellites will have to be implemented with new SDM measures so that new space technologies will not affect the space environment.

The knowledge concerning demisable solutions during an atmospheric re-entry is still at an early stage, nevertheless there is a high market demand for demisable solutions, which is leading towards the development of elements normally used in LEO (propellants, gas tanks, reaction wheels, large mechanisms). The current state of technology regarding controlled re-entry might also introduce the need to move to a larger launcher leading this, to a significant increase of the missions’ costs. For instance, the propellant for the deorbit phase can amount to 75% of the whole propellant budget. The illustrated increase will have to be mitigated by the evolutions of space technologies, which might prevent the mission costs to drastically raise. In conclusion, in paving the way for new satellites model and autonomous re-entry technologies, it is crucial to empower IOD projects and the existing know-how and technologies so to reduce expenses as much as possible. In carrying on this task, also reliability has to be taken into account in order to minimize risks.

SDM projects are spreading within the European framework and in order to sustain the industrial growth in this field, future technological projects must be oriented towards the development of cutting-edge passive deorbit Devices and the expansion of their technologies and drag augmentation devices: this will be possible only through the support of numerous IOD initiatives and by encouraging a continuous exchange of best practices within the European industry.

Deorbiting technologies cannot increase without an adequate plan for demise: this process must include testing, validation and verification approaches to the new technology; industrial research and investments shall be made to develop spacecraft hardware specifically referred to demise and to improve re-entry models, so to augment the reliability of the demise behaviour predictions. The demise technological development plan shall involve a large participation of the European entities and private actors and shall include in particular: demisable tanks, demisable structures, demisable optics, demisable mechanisms and AOCS actuators (Attitude and Orbit Control System).

The approach must also take into account passivation systems by developing propulsion passivation devices and power passivation devices. Additionally, controlled re-entry propulsion systems optimisation shall entail enhancement of monopropellant systems and solid rocket engines for controlled re-entry. This evolution process has to be characterized by a revolutionary level of technology and design: more specifically, technological and industrial efforts shall be oriented towards the achievement of: higher design standards for autonomous deorbit systems and removal, a mature technology level regarding semi-controlled re-entry, guidelines for EOL manoeuvres optimisation, and estimation studies on vulnerability and lifetime extension.

As previously mentioned, the innovation process involves a significant amount of resources, being this the hurdle which prevents operators from enhancing their industrial projects. A way forward to promote the technological development approach taking into consideration the characteristics of the European market, must be endorsed through an information campaign that allows players to actively participate, so to introduce compatibility between the new European space technologies and the industrial business opportunities. The final result of this future framework will have to enable a comparison on the numerous options for controlled and uncontrolled deorbiting. This comparison shall allow to find, case by case, the best solution in accordance with costs, reliability, risks, technological constraints, accomplishment timelines, etc. and contribute to delineate the system level requirements and the consequent implementation of the de-orbiting technologies on spacecraft.

In Orbit Servicing

This domain is of high international interest: Active Debris Removal in fact, is seen as the most promising feature to be included in space missions which fail in removing space debris. The development of technologies that allow reducing the risks of Space Debris Mitigation missions is crucial for the interest of the global market and their improvement must go along with the institution of a public market which will then enable and encourage access to private players in this domain. Moreover, improving the aforementioned technologies within the European market will lead Europe to a key position in the set-up of future standards.

Legal Framework

With regard to the legal aspects of ADR, in case a removal operation causes damage to a third state, both the launching state of the target (space debris) and the state carrying out the removal operation, are considered jointly and severally liable. All ADR operations therefore, can be considered as a hazard for space activities and the complex legal challenges in terms of liability concerning them, might discourage from starting a space debris removal mission. Furthermore, according to Article I of the Liability Convention, damage is only compensable if it consists of a “loss of life, personal injury or other impairment of health; or loss of or damage to property of States or of persons, natural or juridical, or property of international intergovernmental organizations” meaning that States cannot be held liable for the mere presence in outer space of pollution or for the damages caused to the environment by the pollution.

In addition to this, an activity which is deemed to be hazardous without such hazard never really happening, cannot fall under the discipline of the Liability Convention. Likewise, since the Convention applies to damages “caused by a space object” and the definition of space object the Convention provides for refers to “component parts of a space objects as well as its launch vehicle and parts thereof”, one might also exclude the application of the Convention to damages caused by space debris. The legal situation gets even more intricate when talking about small debris: such particles might be defined neither as a space object, nor as a component part. However, if small debris cannot be classified as space objects, a great part of the Liability Convention discipline becomes meaningless, by excluding from its field of application the most common hazardous element for space activities.

Moreover, Article VIII of the OST affirms that a State shall retain jurisdiction over objects launched in outer space, being this legal regime applied even in case the object is not anymore functional. That means that even if a removal responsibility would be established, each state would be responsible only for the removal of its own debris.

Recommendations

The enforcement of the international framework on Space Debris is evolving worldwide: the European Space Agency and the European industry are fully committed in strengthening the harmonisation and this efforts have led Europe to gain a primary role in the scenario. In order for this process to not remain only theoretical, it has to be supported by a concrete technological increase, so that the new solutions arising from it will satisfy the commercial demand and take the market to an upper stage. The continuous interaction between European institutions and industry shall be deeply encouraged, since it assumes the role of the key factor giving rise to new global opportunities and technological progress, the latter including also the improvement of compliance with EOL Deorbiting requirements for future missions. Moreover, passivation systems (power passivation and propulsion passivation) shall be installed on future satellite models in order to enable their fully controlled and safe removal.

Satellites should have an autonomous removal capacity in 90% of the cases; instead, this reliability actually swings around 50 to 60%. The aforementioned reliability shall not only be compliant with the regulations, but also improved from a technical perspective, implying this higher costs and more technological production means. Presently, Autonomous De-orbit Systems and Semi-controlled Re-entry Systems are only a promising sector which might become a service in the future. All the knowledge regarding this field is developing in Europe. In addition to this, the illustrated scenario represents a significant hurdle which might discourage industrial players and technical operators to invest. It is not still clear in fact, which kind of advantages can arise from the improvement of the autonomous removal reliability; in order to expand the potential of this evolution it is therefore necessary to develop technologies so that they become a worthwhile commercial opportunity for satellites operators and increase the regulations by promoting lobbying activities. Moreover, a technological enhancement is urgent for future spacecraft operating in LEO which will have to be projected for both controlled and uncontrolled re-entry. As illustrated in the initial part of the Document, there are many European leader companies leader in this field. This technical knowledge must lead to the creation of industrial products and reduce their time to market. At the current state, no validation method has been approved in order to verify the efficiency of the European skills and technologies.

Private actors’ activities in outer space are spreading at a high rate and a more concrete industrial approach has to be adopted: in order to do so, it makes no sense to find remedies for space junk in a scenario where satellites are not equipped with devices allowing them to have a controlled and safe re-enter into the terrestrial orbit. Part of the international industry is heading towards this direction that is deemed to be the most appropriate: bearing in mind the current quick growth of operators (mostly private ones), the number of satellites sent in outer space in the coming future will at least triplicate. Following the current industrial involvement in the space sector, the number of space devices is likely to raise on the short-medium term meaning that in addition to find a solution to bring back existing satellites, the main point to focus on is a long lasting answer concerning the need for de orbiting systems. There is presently no consolidated monitoring system on space activities. Suggestions on this matter are focused on an independent system of observation being this in the form of internationally assembled teams of scientists so to allow the international community to determine that nothing against the prescriptions takes place in outer space or on celestial bodies. In particular, with regard to private companies, a permanent control managed by the United Nations has to be set, allowing the UN bodies to supervise space activities run by private actors from the planning stage to the completion. Even if it won’t be possible to introduce binding rules or sanctions in case of hazardous activities, negative opinions or soft measures might be adopted in the early phases of this scenario in order to discourage the advancement of the risky activities.

Current framework and initiatives to tackle the space debris issue

Space law provisions on debris seem to be pretty much inexistent, urging a creation of regulations and criteria for this field. The inadequacy of the OST with regard to the space debris issue is unambiguous: fallacies concern the lack of a well-articulated discipline referred to the space environment; in this sense the only sources that can be counted on are the Rio and the Stockholm Declarations on the Environment. There is no definition of negligence for activities carried out in outer space, nor any guidelines or best practices on this theme. According to the vision of a part of the scholars and experts, due to the low number of space faring nations this problem can be faced through a series of informal discussion. The space scenario anyway, has been expanding over the past 50 years meaning that many other nations with heterogeneous policies are now involved in the various activities that our cosmos offers. This leads to the conclusion that an informal method is inadequate; instead, a formal and stricter scenario has to be assumed in order to make the space debris issue become one of the major challenges to constantly tackle, both within the international framework and the national communities.

An initiative of this kind was promoted by an action group of the COPUOS in order to track NEOs (Near Earth Objects): the main guideline was to reduce politics and maximize results by adopting an IADC-like structure (Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee). According to the article 5.4 of the IADC Guidelines, “In developing the design and mission profile of a spacecraft or orbital stage, a program or project should estimate and limit the probability of accidental collision with known objects during the spacecraft or orbital stage’s orbital lifetime” showing this provision how a central international regulation is inexistent, everything is referred to the states or entities carrying out the mission, which shall estimate and limit (not prevent) the risk of collisions, according to their own national criteria.

The lack of a clear set of regulations also emerges from the IADC Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines Update of the 45th COPUOS Scientific and Technical Sub Committee: the last part of the summary declares: “All participants of space activity are encouraged to use the technical information, provided by the IADC Mitigation Guidelines (including its future updates) and IADC Support Documentation to help establish mission requirements for planned and existing space systems”. As illustrated, participants are only encouraged to follow the IADC guidelines; meaning that this is just a feeble attempt and there are no binding rules on this issue. This gap leads to a chaotic situation among national rules and leaves the problem unsolved. States shall adopt their own national rules in order to give rise to a more binding and homogeneous scenario on this matter. An example which might pave the way and inspire a juridical change, is the France’s Space Operations Act which addresses the operators’ management system, the repercussions of hazardous activities on the environment and identifies safety and environmental requirements for the launch, control and return of space objects.

One of the most prominent projects for a set of rules on space debris comes from the Space Debris Foundation and its “Orbital Debris Removal and Recycling Fund Scenario” (ODRRF), which is focused on the incentives for private actors so to fuel their participation in the space debris removal. What clearly emerges then, is the intention of involving the private sector in this field, private players might have more expertise and the best resources to address this issue. On the other side anyway, one has to say that a financial policy is needed: private players cannot autonomously move within a non-regulated context; in line with this necessity, one of the milestones of this plan is to introduce lower insurance costs so to permit private actors to develop considerable series of de-commissioning devices.

The achievement of an internationally shared and detailed space law policy for what concerns space debris seems to be full of juridical hurdles and far from happening. Space debris represent the first challenge that has to be necessarily addressed in order to preserve what has been reached so far and to keep fuelling the human advancement in space. Now more than ever therefore, priority must be given to the industry. Afterwards and in accordance with the industrial accomplishments, one will have to foster the international commitment for tailor-made juridical and financial solutions for those enterprises working in the space debris sector and for the whole space law scenario.

Carlo Belbusti holds a Master’s Degree in Law from Roma Tre University. He also attended a Postgraduate course in space law and policies at the Italian Society for the International Organization.