Louis de Gouyon Matignon

Light pollution: towards a right to darkness?

For ten years, the subject of light pollution has been more and more discussed. Researchers argue for a right to darkness, both to rediscover the starry sky, and to protect ecosystems and human beings, who see lighting as a security symbol. Light pollution or nuisance, involves several associated problems: light nuisance (the unwelcome intrusion of light from nearby premises, especially into bedrooms), sky-glow (damage to the night sky environment above), and glare, which causes discomfort and may be a hazard to road users and pedestrians.

Tempted by a tourist trip to discover for the first time in your life the splendour of the starry sky? If the suggestion has a taste of dystopia, it is now one of the tourist destinations proposed in Singapore: light pollution has become so intense that travel agencies now offer to escape the time of a trip. “Light pollution is the proven effect caused by the disturbance following our use of artificial lights, natural light regimes, and if by this disturbance are observed effects on the fauna, on the flora, on our health, or again on the vision of the starry sky, we are going to have a light pollution, since we see proven effects”.

Appeared in the 1980s, the concept of light pollution, designating a brightness too high after dark, became particularly well known in 2001, when the World Atlas of the Artificial Night Sky Brightness appeared. This study has highlighted the extent of the impact of artificial lighting. Updated every year, it recalled that in 2017, in Europe and North America, more than sixty percent of the inhabitants could not admire the Milky Way from their place of life. While researchers defend a “right to darkness”, the Day of Night, which takes place in France in October each year, aims to raise awareness about light pollution, the protection of night biodiversity and the starry sky.

Lighting: from aesthetics to security

But when was the beginning of light pollution? Could the brightness of a campfire be considered a primary source of pollution? “It’s the notion of excess that shifts into the idea that we are lighting up too much. When we resume the work of the humanities and social sciences, we realise that we speak of a gradient, there is a continuum in the artificiality of things”. In Le Journal de l’Histoire, Anaïs Kien recalled that in Paris, urban lighting began with the hanging of a lantern at the Tour de Nesle, at the entrance of the city, reinforced by a candle placed at the exit of the city in Châtelet, in 1318, after the assault of a judge.

First introduced for security reasons, artificial light quickly takes on an aesthetic dimension. “There was security but also urban aesthetics. There were the royal illuminations at the beginning, with a very strong prominence of the aestheticism and the symbol of the king, then of the absolutist state. Soon, the question of security arrived, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, before falling for nearly two centuries. It re-emerged in the 1980s in France, following the emergence, in Great Britain, of a new framework of urbanistic thought; that is to say, to reduce the opportunities for people to go to crime, we will play on the environment and we will make environments secure by the way they are designed. And there is artificial light”.

From the fifteenth century onward, urban lighting mainly reflects the arrival of urban art, embellishment and a logic of scheduling. We must actually reach the eighteenth century before considering light as a security perspective: the Parisian police, rather than multiply the night rounds with “torchbearers”, responsible for seeing the perpetrators to challenge them, finally favours the use of lanterns and street lamps.

In this logic of perfecting the exercise of power. It becomes the main tool of social control, within the framework of the principles of panoptic stated at the end of the eighteenth century. Hence the efforts of the authorities to stimulate technical developments towards improving the brightness of lighting sources, their brilliant power, signifying to each the potential for continuous monitoring. It is in the context of a competition organised by the chief of the Parisian police that the reflector lantern is thus developed in the mid-1750s”.

Light pollution against fear of the dark

But after several centuries of artificial brightness to protect us from our fear of the dark, it is difficult to consider a return to the darkness of the night. Because of the long history of the lighting-security couple and the reinterpretations that have been made, the belief that lighting and security go hand in hand is today firmly anchored in public opinion. The idea is widespread that urban lighting has a potential effect on both actual crime and fear of crime. If lighting can actually bring real improvements in terms of effective crime in specific areas, it has above all a beneficial effect on the “feeling of insecurity”.

After the stars, new claims

We attract a lot of butterflies and other insects with lighting. We have bats that come to feed and take advantage of this light. But digging a little deeper, we realise that we still have strong behavioural disturbances with individuals who are not serene. Under a lamppost, as many as four thousand butterflies can be put, as many bats cannot be put on. This is not possible because bats are at the top of the food chain. We are on predators that are insectivorous and there is a real competition in the airspace: there is no room for everyone. As much as we attract all the insects of a given landscape under a light source. So we concentrate the food, which has an impact: the rest of the bats who avoid light will find themselves with landscapes impoverished in quantities of food resources”.

Also, not only with insects or mammals, there is lighting, what happens in our interiors and especially these new LED-lit screens that we bring into our beds. It is a form of light pollution. We know that it disrupts very strongly our internal biological clock, with delays in falling asleep, with stress, with risks of increased obesity if one exposes oneself at night before sleeping in artificial light”. The stakes are therefore also sanitary, both for domestic lighting and urban lighting, which comes in the home.

Towards a right to darkness?

If light hygiene is not yet considered a problem of public environmental policy, France, with its Act of December 27, 2018 on the prevention, reduction and limitation of light pollution, has become one of the most advanced countries on the issue in terms of legislation. The law of lighting has therefore evolved considerably in a short time, so that in terms of lighting law, the specialists of the subject have passed to the next level and now claim a right to darkness. “When we legislate on the lighting technique, thresholds, levels, or colour temperatures, it gives us a right of lighting. From the legal point of view, it is possibly a right of darkness”.

Let’s also note, continuing on a right to darkness, that the 2005 British Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act now makes light nuisance subject to the same criminal law as noise and smells.

Analysis of the 2008 French space law

The adoption of the 2008 French space law or “LOI du 3 juin 2008 relative aux opérations spatiales” on June 3, 2008, which addressed several issues intimately linked to the privatisation of space activities, marked the outcome of several years of discussions, and finally provided France with a legal framework for activities in outer space. This highly expected piece of legislation, adopted a couple of days before the beginning of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, aimed at setting out the legal framework for French space activities, and at the same time, it clearly indicated the perspectives of France in terms of business, national sovereignty and independence.

France in outer space

Space projects in Europe take place in a complicated environment involving many public, private and intergovernmental actors, where the participation of the private sector, as independent space operators or as sub-contractors to others, is usually subsumed under the label of “the space industry”, producing hardware, software and services to be used in outer space, in support of space activities, or using products, data or information generated with the help of space activities. It is often considered that national space legislation is the most adapted way to tie the link between the international framework and the private space actors. Besides, as a matter of domestic interest, enacting national space law is also a way for a State to set out its particular interests and orientation in terms of space policy.

Let’s recall that the French Space Agency, CNES, founded in 1961, is a major actor for outer space sustainability and implementation of voluntary guidelines. CNES is the government agency responsible for shaping and implementing France’s Space policy in Europe. Through its ability to innovate and its forward-looking vision, CNES is helping to foster new technologies that will benefit society as a whole, focusing on five themes: access to outer space (with Ariane), telecommunications, observation, science, security and defence. Through its numerous affiliations and participations in companies, CNES was in a position which enabled the control to take place.

France has adopted three main laws in support of sustainable development for Earth and outer space activities: the Law on Energy Transition to Green Growth adopted in August 2015, the Biodiversity Law adopted in July 2016, and the 2008 French space law or “LOI du 3 juin 2008 relative aux opérations spatiales”, adopted in June 2008. In order to respect the environment and to mitigate climate change, France implements exemplary policy concerning the impacts of space missions and the corresponding technical means. The mechanism implemented in the French legal system reflects the goal set out to create an extremely attractive framework for space operators.

While France opts for a conventional interpretation of the international legal system developed within the framework of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), the 2008 French space law is not only a mere transposition of the international dispositions, but it also clarifies a certain number of national issues. As a leader in the field of outer space, France confirms with the 2008 French space law its acceptance of the U.N. system, and adheres to the structures recommended by the space treaties, especially in terms of State liability.

The 2008 French space law

While France is considered as a “space power”, it had no specific legislation applicable to activities in outer space until June 2008. The problematic grew even stronger over the last decade, where the apparition and the development of private space actors (referred to as “New Space”) stressed out the evident call for legislative action. The problems resulting from the lack of national regulation were apparent and even constituted an economical deficiency, as the emerging legal uncertainty could possibly impede the further development of the commercial use of outer space. A first draft for a French national space law was introduced in 2006, and opened the way to further discussions.

The 2008 French space law or French Space Operations Act (LOS) of June 2008, supplemented by decrees and a Technical Regulation, adopted after many years of discussion, establishes the legal framework for outer space activities in France. The 2008 French space law sets up an authorisation and continuous supervision process of the outer space activities of the French operators, in accordance with the international treaties, and in particular, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and the 1972 Liability Convention. This process allows mastering the liability of France for space activities for which it is responsible, in accordance with the aforementioned international treaties.

The 2008 French space law leads to authorise and supervise all the space operations performed by French operators, and takes into account the long-term development of space activities. In particular, the Technical Regulation was developed with due consideration paid to the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines adopted by the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly, the recommended practices and voluntary guidelines proposed by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC), and the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), as well as the existing international technical standards, including those published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS), generally accepted by the international space community for the safe conduct of outer space activities.

In France, the authorisation to perform a space operation (launch or on-orbit control) is given by the ministry in charge of Space, only after evaluation of compliance with the Technical Regulation. The detailed analysis of compliance with the Technical Regulation is performed by CNES on behalf of the ministry of Space (the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche et de l’Innovation). This Technical Regulation comprises requirements ensuring that any space operation limits the number of fragments, and performs end-of-life operations respecting the protected regions, limits ground risks to populations and properties during the launch and re-entry of space objects, limits risks to public health and the environment associated with the elements coming back to Earth, and is compliant with applicable nuclear safety prescriptions via a specific plan, in case of use of radioactive materials.

The 2008 French space law provides that every operator has to carry out, for any space operation, an impact assessment on the environment, and a hazard study with a plan to manage risks and ensure safety of populations, properties, public health and the environment. The authorisation process and the assessment of compliance with the Technical Regulation provides assurance that the operators have the means, resources, necessary skills and are appropriately organised to perform the operation in compliance with the 2008 French space law. It also allows competent authorities to verify that compliance is maintained throughout operational life of the space object up until disposal, through the processing of the technical and organisational events.

For the sake of consistency, it was decided to extend previously established ad hoc practices and allocate them a legal origin so to ensure their dissemination in the space industry. This firstly concerns the cross waiver of liability clauses. This practice consists in considering that each party in a space related contract shall individually bear the risks of the activities performed and renounce to all claims against the other party (Article 20 of the 2008 French space law). The second noteworthy piece of codification carried out in the 2008 French space law concerns the liability ceiling for launch operators, and the mandatory insurance obligations for amounts below the ceiling (Article 6 of the 2008 French space law). The 2008 French space law also provides an insurance obligation for risks in orbit.

Article 4 of the 2008 French space law establishes a double stepped authorisation procedure. Based on Article VI of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, France insures that non-governmental space activities are subject to “authorisation and control”. However, out of reasons of industrial policy and in order to relieve space operators from redundant and expensive authorisation applications, France has opted for a licensing system besides the authorisation system. Operators can apply for licences attesting that they have the guarantees required by the 2008 French space law for the granting of the authorisations. The 2008 French space law underlines the need for a harmonised approach to national space legislation at a European level.

Is the orbital environment a natural resource?

Our orbital environment is a natural resource. Just as we need to protect our rivers, forests and oceans on Earth, we believe our orbits need to be monitored and maintained in order to be sustainable”. When a valuable, naturally-occurring resource, is difficult to substitute, its preservation is of prime importance.

Our specific Earth orbits, where satellites carry out specific missions (Earth observation missions in Sun-synchronous orbits, positioning in medium-Earth orbits, telecommunication satellites in Geostationary orbit), are precisely such natural resources that are staggeringly cost-intensive and, in certain cases, improbable to substitute. This makes Earth orbits limited natural resources that require preservation.

The orbital environment

The orbital environment refers to all orbits used by space objects since the 1950s. An orbit is the curved path through which objects in space move around a planet or a star. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty’s regime enshrines the principle of “non-appropriation” and “freedom of access” to orbital positions. Space law and international telecommunication laws combined to protect this use against any interference.

The majority of space-launched objects are satellites that are launched in Earth’s orbit (a very small part of space objects – scientific objects for space exploration – are launched into outer space beyond terrestrial orbits). It is important to precise that an orbit does not exist: satellites describe orbits by obeying the general laws of universal attraction. Depending on the launching techniques and parameters, the orbital trajectory of a satellite may vary. Sun-synchronous satellites fly over a given location constantly at the same time in local civil time: they are used for remote sensing, meteorology or the study of the atmosphere. Geostationary satellites are placed in a very high orbit: they give an impression of immobility because they remain permanently at the same vertical point of a terrestrial point (they are mainly used for telecommunications and television broadcasting).

A geocentric orbit or Earth orbit involves any object orbiting the Earth, such as the Moon or artificial satellites. Geocentric (having the Earth as its centre) orbits are organised as follow:

1) Low Earth orbit (LEO): geocentric orbits with altitudes (the height of an object above the average surface of the Earth’s oceans) from 100 to 2 000 kilometres. Satellites in LEO have a small momentary field of view, only able to observe and communicate with a fraction of the Earth at a time, meaning a network or constellation of satellites is required in order to provide continuous coverage. Satellites in lower regions of LEO also suffer from fast orbital decay (in orbital mechanics, decay is a gradual decrease of the distance between two orbiting bodies at their closest approach, the periapsis, over many orbital periods), requiring either periodic reboosting to maintain a stable orbit, or launching replacement satellites when old ones re-enter.

2) Medium Earth orbit (MEO), also known as an intermediate circular orbit: geocentric orbits ranging in altitude from 2 000 kilometres to just below geosynchronous orbit at 35 786 kilometres. The most common use for satellites in this region is for navigation, communication, and geodetic/space environment science. The most common altitude is approximately 20 000 kilometres which yields an orbital period of twelve hours.

3) Geosynchronous orbit (GSO) and geostationary orbit (GEO) are orbits around Earth at an altitude of 35 786 kilometres, matching Earth’s sidereal rotation period. All geosynchronous and geostationary orbits have a semi-major axis of 42 164 kilometres. A geostationary orbit stays exactly above the equator, whereas a geosynchronous orbit may swing north and south to cover more of the Earth’s surface. Communications satellites and weather satellites are often placed in geostationary orbits, so that the satellite antennae (located on Earth) that communicate with them do not have to rotate to track them, but can be pointed permanently at the position in the sky where the satellites are located.

4) High Earth orbit: geocentric orbits above the altitude of 35 786 kilometres.

What is a natural resource?

Natural resources are components that exist in the world without the input of humans. These natural resources are diverse, ranging from renewable resources to non-renewable resources, living to non-living resources, tangible to intangible resources. Natural resources are essential to the survival of humans and all other living organisms. All the products in the world use natural resources as their basic component, which may be water, air, natural chemicals or energy. The high demand for natural resources around the world has led to their rapid depletion.

Natural resources could be classified into different categories, such as renewable and non-renewable resources, biotic and abiotic resources, and stock resources. Renewable resources refer to resources that can naturally regenerate after use. They include resources such as wind, water, natural vegetation, solar energy, and animals. These resources exist in nature in abundance. There is little concern about depleting renewable resources because their rate of production exceeds the rate of human consumption. Conservationists throughout the world advocate for the use of renewable resources, because they are readily available and less costly to the environment.

Non-renewable resources are components that take too long to replenish after use or exist in limited quantities. Non-renewable resources include products such as crude oil, precious metals, minerals, and rocks. Some endangered animals are also classified as non-renewable resources because their mortality rate is much higher than their reproduction rate. These non-renewable resources need to be protected and to be used responsibly to stop their depletion.

Biotic natural resources refer to living resources that exist naturally in the environment. Such resources include forests, wildlife, and fossil fuels, which are all listed as biotic natural resources. Non-biotic natural resources are natural products in the environment that are non-living. These resources include water, rocks, metals, and minerals among many others. The world has numerous resources some of which are yet to be exploited. Humans lack the skills and technology to extract and use some of the naturally occurring resources, like rare gases and some radioactive materials. As a result, these resources are classified as stock resources to be utilised in the future.

Most natural resources exist in limited quantities. Unfortunately, various factors have led to the exploitation of these resources. Some of the components are at the risk of depletion. Environmental pollution, high population, uncontrolled development, climate change, and modern lifestyles are some of the threats to natural resources. Is there an orbital pollution? What about space debris?

Is the orbital environment a natural resource?

Is therefore the orbital environment a natural resource? The way we perceive outer space today makes it inherently difficult to imagine that anything in this vast expanse might be limited in nature, or that we might run out of it at some point in time. But as they say – all good things must come to an end, and have not Earth orbits been a boon to our spacecraft orbiting Earth since the 1950s?

From the time of the first space missions, certain Earth orbits have been invaluable for communication, positioning and surveillance purposes – necessities that we cannot imagine procuring any other way today. For instance, imagine conducting surveillance without space assets: it would require thousands of airplanes flying in the sky to do what a couple of satellites manage today. Satellites can be cost-efficient, time-efficient, reliable, and provide a higher productivity. A win-win system for the entire globe.

Now imagine losing this win-win situation. Imagine an altitude shell through which satellites revolve around Earth constantly, collecting and relaying essential data. What happens when the traffic in these shells increases to the point of congestion, like a traffic jam on a highway? Or when the safe minimum distance between satellites travelling through Earth orbits is compromised? Undoubtedly, there will be collisions, like accidents on a freeway – only in outer space there is no emergency response system to go and clean up the damaged spacecraft from busy orbits and let the rest of the traffic continue smoothly. Therefore, a single collision leads to further threats of collision – what we in the space sector call high-risk conjunction warnings. It is as they say: “one event in space has consequences for everyone”.

When a valuable, naturally-occurring resource, is difficult to substitute, its preservation is of prime importance. Our specific Earth orbits, where satellites carry out specific missions (Earth observation missions in Sun-synchronous orbits, positioning in medium-Earth orbits, telecommunication satellites in Geostationary orbit), are precisely such natural resources that are staggeringly cost-intensive and, in certain cases, improbable to substitute. This makes Earth orbits limited natural resources that require preservation. We need to be sure that Earth orbits are managed efficiently and sustainably by making sure that all spacefarers follow the identified actions. This should be facilitated by developing and providing the required technology to the spacefarers.

As space is not the domain of any one country or international entity, both domestic and international regulations need to be implemented and enforced. We see that this is beginning to happen. The United States of America, Japan and European countries are all considering regulations to limit future debris, and even to remove current debris. Additionally, international organisations are discussing standards and policies that will lead to debris removal, and higher future reliability of satellites. Creating and enforcing regulations in outer space at an international level takes a lot of time, effort and patience; let’s hope that in several years, space debris removal will become routine work, much like trash collection or roadside car service here on Earth. This is what can be said concerning the orbital environment.

Is naming stars legal?

For this new Space Law article on Space Legal Issues, we have asked ourselves the following question: is naming stars legal? There are services which will let you name a star in the sky after a loved one. You can commemorate a special day, or the life of an amazing person. But can you really name a star? Is it legal? For a century, the International Astronomical Union has been the internationally recognised authority for naming celestial bodies and surface features on them. And names are not sold, but assigned according to internationally accepted rules.

Names of astronomical objects are agreed upon by the International Astronomical Union. If this name sounds familiar, it’s the same people who voted that Pluto is not a planet. There are a few stars with traditional names which have been passed down through history. Names like Betelgeuse, Sirius, or Rigel. Others were named in the last few hundred years for highly influential astronomers. These are the common names, agreed upon by the astronomical community.

Most stars, especially dim ones, are only given coordinates and a designation in a catalogue. There are millions and millions of stars out there with a long string of numbers and letters for a name. There’s the Gliese Catalog of Nearby Stars, or the Guide Star Catalogs, which contain nine hundred and forty-five million stars.

The International Astronomical Union

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) was founded in 1919. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects, including research, communication, education and development, through international cooperation. Its individual Members — structured into Divisions, Commissions, and Working Groups — are professional astronomers from all over the world, who are active in professional research, education and outreach in astronomy. In addition, the IAU collaborates with various scientific organisations all over the world.

The long-term policy of the International Astronomical Union is defined by the General Assembly and implemented by the Executive Committee, while day-to-day operations are directed by the IAU Officers. The focal point of its activities is the IAU Secretariat, hosted by the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris in France.

Among the tasks of the IAU are the definition of fundamental astronomical and physical constants; unambiguous astronomical nomenclature and informal discussions on the possibilities for future international large-scale facilities. Furthermore, the IAU serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and surface features on them. Celestial nomenclature has long been a controversial topic. At its inaugural meeting in 1922 in Rome, the IAU standardised the constellation names and abbreviations. More recently, IAU Committees or Working Groups have certified the names of astronomical objects and features.

The IAU has been the arbiter of planetary and satellite nomenclature since its inception in 1919. The various IAU Working Groups normally handle this process, and their decisions primarily affect the professional astronomers. But from time to time, the IAU takes decisions and makes recommendations on issues concerning astronomical matters affecting other sciences or the public. Such decisions and recommendations are not enforceable by any national or international law; rather, they establish conventions that are meant to help our understanding of astronomical objects and processes. Hence, IAU recommendations should rest on well-established scientific facts, and have a broad consensus in the community concerned.

The eight major planets in our Solar System and Earth’s satellite have official IAU names. The names of the major planets were already in common use when the IAU formed in 1919, however, the names of the planets have been included in wording for IAU resolutions multiple times since the IAU’s founding, and these names can be considered formally adopted by the IAU membership. While there are cultural names for the planets and Earth’s satellite in other languages, there are classic names for the major planets and Moon.

Is naming stars legal?

Is naming stars possibly legal? The International Astronomical Union frequently receives requests from individuals who want to buy stars, or name stars after other persons. Some commercial enterprises purport to offer such services for a fee. However, such “names” have no formal or official validity whatsoever. Similar rules on “buying” names apply to star clusters and galaxies as well. For bodies in the Solar System, special procedures for assigning official names apply, but in no case are commercial transactions involved.

Some bright stars have proper names, with mostly Arabic, Greek, or Latin etymologies (Vega for example), but otherwise, the vast majority of stars have alphanumeric designations — consisting of an acronym plus either an index number or a celestial position. The IAU supports a Working Group on Star Names (WGSN), under Division C, which is cataloguing the names of stars from the world’s cultures, and maintaining a catalogue of approved unique proper names.

After ongoing investigation of cultural star names from around the world, the WGSN may adopt “new” official IAU star names from this list for those stars currently lacking official IAU names. This will help preserve astronomical heritage, while providing new unique names for the international astronomical community. Names for exoplanets and their host stars may be also approved by the IAU Executive Committee Working Group on the Public Naming of Planets and Planetary Satellites, as was done in 2015 via the NameExoWorlds contest.

As an international scientific organisation, the IAU dissociates itself entirely from the commercial practice of selling fictitious star names, surface feature names, or real estate on other planets or moons in the Solar System. Accordingly, the IAU maintains no list of the enterprises in these businesses in individual countries of the world. In the past, certain such enterprises have suggested to customers that the IAU is somehow associated with, recognises, approves, or even actively collaborates in their business. Which was of course false and unfounded.

Names assigned by the IAU are recognised and used by scientists, space agencies, authors of astronomical literature, and other authorities worldwide. When observing stars and planets or launching space missions to them, or reporting about them in the news, everybody needs to know exactly which location a particular name refers to. The names assigned by the IAU are those that are used.

These companies maintain their own private database containing stars from the catalogue, and associated star names. They’ll provide the customer with a certificate and instructions for finding it in the sky, but these names are not recognised by the international astronomical community. As a result, you won’t see your name appearing in a scientific research journal. In fact, it’s possible that the star you’ve named with one organisation, will be given a different name by another group.

There are a few objects that can be named, and recognised by the IAU. If you’re the first person to spot a comet, you’ll have it named after you, or your organisation. For example, Comet Shoemaker-Levy was discovered simultaneously by Eugene Merle Shoemaker and David H. Levy. If you discover asteroids and Kuiper Belt objects, you can suggest names which may be ratified by the IAU. Asteroids, as well as comets, get their official numerical designation, and then a common name.

The amateur astronomer Jeffrey S. Medkeff named asteroids after a handful of people in the astronomy, space and sceptic community. Kuiper Belt objects are traditionally given names from mythology. So what about extrasolar planets? Right now, these planets are attached to the name of the star. For example, if a planet is discovered around one of the closer stars in the Gliese Catalog, it’s given a letter designation.

An organisation called Uwingu is hoping to raise funds to help discover new extrasolar planets, and then reward those funders with naming rights, but so far, this policy hasn’t been adopted by the IAU. Officially allowing the public to name astronomical objects would be a good idea. It would spur the imagination of the public, connecting them directly to the amazing discoveries happening in outer space, and it would help drive funds to underfunded research projects. So, is naming stars legal? The answer is no.

Telepossession and space law

We have decided to study, for this new Space Law article on Space Legal Issues, telepossession and space law. In law, telepossession is the right of ownership of a resource based on telepresence rather than physical proximity. Telepresence refers to a set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance of being present, or to have an effect, via telerobotics, at a place other than their true location.

Telerobotics, a combination of telepresence and teleoperation (operation of a system or machine at a distance), is the area of robotics concerned with the control of semi-autonomous robots from a distance, chiefly using a wireless network (like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, the Deep Space Network…) or tethered connections. The term gained importance in maritime salvage following the case of the S.S. Central America.

The case of the S.S. Central America

S.S. Central America, known as the Ship of Gold, was an eighty-five meters long sidewheel steamer, operating between Central America and the eastern coast of the United States of America, during the 1850s. The ship sank in a hurricane in September 1857, along with most of its passengers, and almost fifteen tons of gold, contributing to the Panic of 1857, a financial panic in the United States of America caused by the declining international economy, and over-expansion of the domestic economy.

In the immediate aftermath of the sinking, greatest attention was paid to the loss of life, which was described as “appalling” and as having “no parallel” among American navigation disasters. The ship was then located using the “Bayesian search theory”, the application of “Bayesian statistics” (probability expresses a degree of belief in an event) to the search for lost objects. A remotely operated vehicle, a tethered underwater mobile device, was sent down in the 1980s, and significant amounts of gold and artefacts were recovered and brought to the surface.

Thirty-nine insurance companies filed suit, claiming that because they paid damages in the nineteenth century for the lost gold, they had the right to it. The team that found it argued that the gold had been abandoned. After a legal battle, most of the gold was awarded to the discovery team in the 1990s.

The basis for a claim of telepossession was the operation of robotic workers at the submerged site, where they performed the tasks of a manned crew of salvage workers. These telepossession robots worked to secure the site, provide for the management of the site, and retrieve the gold from the shipwreck. The principle of “pedis possessio” was relied on by the claimants to press their claim for ownership of the recovered gold.

Pedis possessio, a Latin term which means “possession-of-a-foot”, is a principle or doctrine of mining law, according to which a qualified person who peaceably, and in good faith, enters a land in the public domain in search of valuable minerals, may hold the place exclusively against others having no better title, provided the person remains in continuous exclusive occupancy and, diligently and in good faith, prosecutes work towards making a discovery. This principle provides a person exploring an area freedom from fraudulent or forcible intrusions, while actually working on the site.

There are many applications to the doctrines created by the S.S. Central America litigation beyond claiming ownership to sunken shipwrecks. The doctrine of telepossession, as the above examples demonstrate, will encourage courts in the future to create other doctrines to meet the demands created by advances in technology. Domestic and international law is not impinged upon by acceptance of the telepossession doctrine. And, in fact, when situations arise in other countries, courts will be able to reach for the doctrine with open arms and readily embrace its numerous applications. Telepossession may be applied not only in regard to discovery or salvage of sunken vessels, but it may also be used to promote justice in outer space.

Telepossession and space law

Looking at telepossession and space law, telepossession could provide for a form of possession, which would allow mining and space colonisation companies to develop the extraterrestrial resources used in making space stations, fleets of spacecraft, fuelling stations and all other colonisation infrastructures. According to Richard Westfall, establishing telepossession of resources in space should involve three tasks: telepresence (visual observation of the site), telemetry (communication with and knowledge of the location of the site), and telerobotics (manipulation of the resources at the site).

Telepossessor must be able to show live video pictures of the resource site, know the resource is and be able to communicate with the equipment thereon, and demonstrate ability to manipulate the resource site presumably through purifying the ore, reducing metals, or manufacturing parts in situ. According to NASA, “In-situ resource utilization will enable the affordable establishment of extraterrestrial exploration and operations by minimizing the materials carried from Earth and by developing advanced, autonomous devices to optimize the benefits of available in-situ resources”. The three most-likely used celestial bodies in future in situ resource utilization will be the Moon, Mars and asteroids.

Telepresence also has been defined by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA’s “main aim is to perfect a technique it calls telepresence that uses a head-mounted display and datagloves to make robots mimic human movements”. This technological process of computer-generated imagery for the purpose of remotely controlling robots at a distant location, or to merely computer-generate a scene for entertainment or other purposes, has also been defined as “virtual reality”.

An interesting precedent justifying the acquisition of property through telepossession can be found in the Roman law, where a person could acquire ownership or other rights not only by his own direct actions, but also through the actions of slaves under his power. Slaves had a similar legal status as modern robotic space probes; the word “robot” itself was derived from the Czech “robota”, meaning “labour” in the early twentieth century. Roman slaves were mere instruments for their master, being nothing more than chattels, objects of property rights and having no independent legal existence as persons. Their master had the property in anything that the slaves acquired. In the absence of a statement to the contrary, a slave owned in common by two or more masters acquired for them in the ratio of their respective shares in him.

Glenn H. Reynolds agrees that claiming property by landing a robot may well be possible; he nonetheless considers that the size of the claim has to be reasonable (one can claim “the quarter of a square mile in which your robot rolled around”, but not a whole planet). Should such actions be taken, it could be believed that entities performing them may well have a legal standing to make a property claim in the presence of both animus and corpus. Of course, the validity of ownership acquisition through space telepossession is subject to the permissibility of fee simple property rights in the extraterrestrial realms. This is what can be said concerning telepossession and space law.

The Guano Islands Act

In our understanding of Space Law, I thought it would be good for this new article to focus on the U.S. Guano Islands Act. The Guano Islands Act, a United States federal law passed by the U.S. Congress (the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States of America, consisting of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate) in 1856, enables citizens of the United States of America to take possession, in the name of the United States of America, of unclaimed islands containing guano (the accumulated excrement of seabirds and bats) deposits. Basically, any American who discovers large deposits of bird excrement on an island can legally claim that island as U.S. territory.

The islands can be located anywhere, so long as they are not occupied and not within the jurisdiction of another government. It also empowers the President of the United States of America to use the military to protect such interests and establishes the criminal jurisdiction of the United States of America in these territories. The Act from the nineteenth century continues to be part of the law of the United States of America. The most recent Guano Islands Act claim was made to Navassa Island (a small uninhabited island in the Caribbean Sea); however, the claim was discarded because an American court ruled the island was already under American jurisdiction. We thought that, regarding the debates going on around the lawfulness of space mining activities, it would be good to have a look at this Act.

Background

In the 1840s, guano came to be prised as a source of saltpetre for gunpowder, as well as an agricultural fertiliser. The United States of America began importing it in 1843. In 1840, the first Peruvian guano was shipped to Europe, arriving in London. Over the next two years, one hundred and eighty-two tons were shipped to England. Just twenty years later, in 1862, that amount had risen to almost half a million tons. The first shipment of guano arrived in the United States of America in 1844, and consisted of seven hundred tons of the stuff. At the outset of the guano boom, Peru more or less had a monopoly on the good, and the American and Peruvian governments weren’t on particularly good terms with each other. Before long, Americans began seeking out alternative sources of bird crap.

In the mid-nineteenth century, explorers headed out to sea, hoping to claim new islands for the United States of America. Soon, the problem arose of what to do if Americans wanted to extract guano from locations already claimed by other governments — in particular uninhabited islands, where birds had been dropping their excrement for millennia with no human interference. The “guano mania” of the 1850s led to high prices in an oligopolistic market, attempts of price control, and fear of resource exhaustion; and so, the Guano Islands Act came to be.

The Guano Islands Act

The Guano Islands Act notably states that “Whenever any citizen of the United States discovers a deposit of guano on any island, rock, or key, not within the lawful jurisdiction of any other government, and not occupied by the citizens of any other government, and takes peaceable possession thereof, and occupies the same, such island, rock, or key may, at the discretion of the President, be considered as appertaining to the United States”.

The U.S. Act then adds that “The discoverer shall, as soon as practicable, give notice verified by affidavit, to the Department of State, of such discovery, occupation, and possession, describing the island, rock, or key, and the latitude and longitude thereof, as near as may be, and showing that such possession was taken in the name of the United States; and shall furnish satisfactory evidence to the State Department that such island, rock, or key was not, at the time of the discovery thereof, or of the taking possession and occupation thereof by the claimants, in the possession or occupation of any other government or of the citizens of any other government, before the same shall be considered as appertaining to the United States”.

The Guano Islands Act declares that “The discoverer, or his assigns, being citizens of the United States, may be allowed, at the pleasure of Congress, the exclusive right of occupying such island, rocks, or keys, for the purpose of obtaining guano, and of selling and delivering the same to citizens of the United States, to be used therein, and may be allowed to charge and receive for every ton thereof delivered alongside a vessel, in proper tubs, within reach of ship’s tackle, a sum not exceeding $8 per ton for the best quality, or $4 for every ton taken while in its native place of deposit”.

Then, “All acts done, and offenses or crimes committed, on any island, rock, or key mentioned in section 1411 of this title, by persons who may land thereon, or in the waters adjacent thereto, shall be deemed committed on the high seas, on board a merchant ship or vessel belonging to the United States; and shall be punished according to the laws of the United States relating to such ships or vessels and offenses on the high seas, which laws for the purpose aforesaid are extended over such islands, rocks, and keys”.

It continues with the following: “The President is authorized, at his discretion, to employ the land and naval forces of the United States to protect the rights of the discoverer or of his widow, heir, executor, administrator, or assigns”. And finally, “Nothing in this chapter contained shall be construed as obliging the United States to retain possession of the islands, rocks, or keys, after the guano shall have been removed from the same”.

More than one hundred islands have been claimed for the United States of America under the Guano Islands Act, but most claims have been withdrawn. The Act specifically allows the islands to be considered possessions of the United States of America. The Act does not specify what the status of the territory is after it is abandoned by private U.S. interests, or the guano is exhausted, creating neither obligation to nor prohibition of retaining possession.

The difference between space policy and space law

In many conventions, talks and meetings where I have been, people have wandered what’s the difference between space policy and space law. For this new Space Law article on Space Legal Issues, I thought it would be good to quickly discuss the meanings and implications of both space policy and space law. Space policy is more about politics, whereas space law is more about law.

The intertwined notions usually reflect a State’s political will concerning outer space. The space policy of a State or a national or international organisation is the domain of public policy which concerns space activities. It covers both the choice of development axes (research, inhabited space, launchers…), the share of public funds allocated to outer space, and the definition of the organisation responsible for its definition and implementation.

Space policy

Space policy is the political decision-making process for, and application of, public policy (the principled guide to action taken by the administrative executive branches of the State with regard to a class of issues, in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs) of a State (or association of States) regarding spaceflight and uses of outer space, both for civilian (scientific and commercial) and military purposes. A policy is usually defined as “A definite course or method of action selected from among alternatives and in light of given conditions to guide and determine present and future directions”.

Space policy intersects with science policy, since national space programs often perform or fund research in space science, and also with defense policy, for applications such as spy satellites and anti-satellite weapons. It also encompasses government regulation of third-party activities, such as commercial communications satellites and private spaceflight. Space policy also encompasses the creation and application of space law, and space advocacy organisations exist to support the cause of space exploration.

In the United States of America

The space policy of the United States of America includes both the making of space policy and law through the legislative process, and the implementation of the policy in the civilian and military U.S. space programs, through regulatory agencies. The early history of the United States of America’s space policy is linked to the Space Race of the 1960s, which gave notably way to the Space Shuttle program. There is a current debate on the post-Space Shuttle future of the civilian space program.

The United States of America’s space policy is drafted by the Executive branch at the direction of the President of the United States of America, and submitted for approval and establishment of funding to the legislative process of the United States Congress. Space advocacy organisations may provide advice to the government and lobby for space goals.

The President of the United States of America may also negotiate with other nations and sign space treaties on behalf of the U.S.A., according to the President’s constitutional authority. Congress’ final space policy product is, in the case of domestic policy, a bill explicitly stating the policy objectives and the budget appropriation for their implementation, to be submitted to the President of the United States of America for signature into law, or else a ratified treaty with other nations.

In Europe

The European Space Agency (ESA) is the common space agency for many European States. It is independent of the European Union, though the 2007 European Space Policy provides a framework for coordination between the two organisations and Member States, including issues such as security and defence, access to outer space, space science, and space exploration.

European space policy is based on the cooperation of three types of actors: the Member States of the European Union, the European Union and the European Space Agency (sometimes referred to as the space triangle). Member States have the strongest decision-making power since they define space policy and funding at all levels.

Space legislation

Space legislation or space law is the body of law governing space-related activities, encompassing both international and domestic agreements, rules, and principles. Parameters of space law include space exploration, liability for damage, weapons use, rescue efforts, environmental preservation, information sharing, new technologies, and ethics. Other fields of law, such as administrative law, intellectual property law, arms control law, insurance law, environmental law, criminal law, and commercial law, are also integrated within space law.

Space law is thus different from space policy. The origins of space law date back to 1919, with international law recognising each country’s sovereignty over the airspace directly above their territory, later reinforced at the Chicago Convention in 1944. The onset of domestic space programs during the Cold War propelled the official creation of international space policy.

Space law was created in the early 1960s as part of the United Nations, under the leadership of the United States of America and the U.S.S.R., then engaged in the race for the Moon. In the context of tension linked to the Cold War, the two great powers have sought to prevent space from becoming a zone of conflict.

The founding text of this new branch of international law is the Outer Space Treaty (OST) of January 27, 1967. This framework agreement was supplemented by four specific international treaties: the Astronaut Agreement of April 22, 1968, the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects of March 29, 1972, the Convention on the Registration of Objects Launched in Space of January 14, 1975, and the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies of December 18, 1979.

These texts lay down a series of great principles which are: freedom of use and exploration of outer space, non-appropriation of outer space, peaceful uses of outer space, protection of astronauts, authorisation and supervision of private space operations, responsibility for potential damages caused by space objects, and jurisdiction and control.

Since its adoption, space law has gone through several periods. First developed in the context of public international law to frame the activities of States in outer space, space law experienced a first significant change from the 1980s with the adoption of national laws aimed at regulating space operations conducted by private companies. Thus, while international law remains the general framework for space activities, they are now directly governed by national law. In France, space activities fall under LOI n° 2008-518 du 3 juin 2008 relative aux opérations spatiales.

The second change in space law aims to place the law at the service of entrepreneurial innovation. This evolution originated in the United States of America, first through the establishment of public-private partnership contracts. Through the 2005 Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS), the 2008 Commercial Resupply Service (CRS), and the 2010 Commercial Crew Development (CCDeV), NASA has signed several contracts to boost the privatisation of outer spaceflights with innovative and cost-effective solutions. Entrepreneurial innovation is also encouraged by the adoption of specific laws in two new areas to support the private initiatives that led to the emergence of what is today-called “New Space”: sub-orbital flights through the 2004 amendment to the Commercial Space Launch Act, and the exploitation of celestial bodies though the 2015 Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act.

Space powers, delegating business to companies, are now refocusing on their military space activities. While some demonstrate their ability to destroy satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and others announce the creation of space-specific armed forces, all fear the possible overflows resulting from this new militarisation of outer space. Finally, the development of outer space activities, with the increase of potential space debris, announces a saturation of some orbits; there is an urgent need to develop “space traffic management” tools, as it is already the case with airspace.

Harmful contamination, harmful interference and space debris

Is there a link between harmful contamination, harmful interference and space debris? There is a consensus that the use of space is essential to preserving the economic, commercial, and military interests of advanced industrial nations, and that any harmful interference with satellites poses a threat to these interests.

For this new Space Law article on Space Legal Issues, let us study the concept of harmful contamination, harmful interference and that of space debris, as it is presented in Article IX of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, Magna Carta of space law.

Introduction on harmful contamination, harmful interference and space debris

States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies. This is mentioned in Article IX of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which states the following: “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 principle of cooperation and mutual assistance

Article IX of the OST starts with the following: “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”.

This is an important sentence, reaffirming the spirit of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, its Preamble and the general consensus governing the exploration and use of outer space. The activities in outer space shall be guided by the principle of cooperation and mutual assistance. Also, States Parties to the Treaty have to bear in mind when conducting activities in outer space the corresponding interests of all other States (and not simply anymore States Parties to the Treaty).

Harmful contamination when pursuing studies of outer space

Article IX of the OST continues with the following: “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”.

This is called “planetary protection”. Planetary protection is a field concerned with keeping actual or possible zones of life pure and unspoiled. A planet’s biosphere is its complete zone of life, its global ecological system, and includes all its living organisms as well as all organic matter that has not yet decomposed. Planetary protection, which mainly focuses on microbial life and on potentially invasive species, is essential for several reasons: to preserve our ability to study other worlds as they exist in their natural states; to avoid contamination that would obscure our ability to find life elsewhere – if it exists; and to ensure that we take prudent precautions to protect Earth’s biosphere in case it does.

Typically, planetary protection is divided into two major components, two types of interplanetary contamination (biological contamination of a planetary body by a space probe or spacecraft, either deliberate or unintentional). Forward contamination is the transfer of viable organisms from Earth to another celestial body; it is prevented primarily by sterilising the spacecraft. Back contamination is the transfer of extraterrestrial organisms, if such exist, back to the Earth’s biosphere. Non-biological forms of contamination have also been considered (objects left on the Moon or Moon Junk). Current space missions are governed by the Outer Space Treaty and the COSPAR guidelines for planetary protection.

Harmful interference with activities of other States

Article IX of the OST continues with the following: “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”.

First of all, harmful interference concern activities of other States Parties in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies. This means that the principle may not apply to commercial or military activities; what is not the peaceful exploration and use of outer space is, according to an a contrario analysis, excluded from the scope of this principle.

The “no harmful interference” proposal takes into account the interests of a wide range of space-faring nations, including those who maintain hedging strategies against potential noncompliance. A code of conduct for responsible space-faring nations that includes a no harmful interference provision can help promote the peaceful uses of outer space while addressing the security concerns of major powers.

Article IX of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty finishes with the following: “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”.

To the extent general international law provides for obligations resting upon states to avoid or address harmful interference with the lawful telecommunication activities of other states, such obligations would also extend to outer space. What about space debris? Orbital debris is not addressed explicitly in current international law. Three articles in the Outer Space Treaty contain language pertinent to orbital debris issues. Article VI, VII and IX, which allows states that have reason to believe that a planned activity or experiment would cause potentially harmful interference with other space activities to “request consultation” concerning the activity or experiment.

Although the U.N. treaties deal with some of the issues raised by the presence of orbital debris, many other debris-related issues are not addressed. For example, the treaties do not address the potential need for measures to reduce the creation of new debris.

Concluding remarks on harmful contamination, harmful interference and space debris

The advancement of an international norm against harmful interference with space objects, supported by a hedging strategy in the event of noncompliance by other nations, offers the best likelihood that satellites can continue to support the needs of citizens and their governments.

Furthermore, a provision banning harmful interference with satellites might best be embedded in a code of conduct for responsible space-faring nations. Indeed, a code of conduct that includes other essential provisions, such as those establishing debris mitigation and space traffic management protocols, could be vitiated if nations test and use mechanisms that result in harmful interference with space objects.

The space program of New Zealand

In this new Space Law article on Space Legal Issues, let’s have a look at the space program of New Zealand. New Zealand’s role in outer space is gaining momentum, bringing increased opportunities. Rocket Lab, a United States of America corporation with a subsidiary in New Zealand, is the main commercial player in New Zealand’s emerging space industry. New Zealand is setting itself up to become an international launch site for sending objects into outer space.  Before the first rocket lifts off, a series of laws and regulations were needed to ensure any space activities were done safely, and to the best international standards.

Rocket Lab has recently developed the Electron space launch vehicle to provide a dedicated launch service for small satellites. The company’s mission is to remove commercial barriers to outer space. Rocket Lab recognised that New Zealand offered an attractive location for space launch activities, due to the innovation-friendly business environment, strong science and research, and development system, skilled workforce and suitably remote geography (including low volumes of air, and sea traffic).

Today, many more players are able to access outer space. Advances in technology have enabled the production of smaller, cheaper, and more powerful satellites. The standardisation and mass production of small satellites have also reduced barriers to entry, and driven innovation in space-related services and applications. The development of a New Zealand-based space industry would enable New Zealand to participate directly in this new economy, and ensure that all New Zealanders could benefit from the opportunities that the use of outer space, and the participation of New Zealand in the global space economy have to offer.

The New Zealand Space Agency

Set up in 2016, the New Zealand Space Agency is the lead government agency for space policy, regulation, and business development. The New Zealand Space Agency was formed in April 2016 under the country’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The aim of the agency is to promote the development of a space industry in New Zealand, and to reap its economic benefits. The government also established the space agency to regulate the country’s growing commercial space industry, and specifically to allow space launches by the New Zealand subsidiary of Rocket Lab, a U.S. aerospace company.

Growth in the small satellite industry has in turn created demand for small satellite launch vehicles. Developments in space technologies and space business models, means that outer space is now open to a new generation of entrepreneurs and enthusiasts, and countries around the world are keen to share in the full range of economic development and social benefits that space offers.

Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab, founded in June 2006, is a “New Space” private American aerospace manufacturer and smallsat launch service provider, with a wholly owned New Zealand subsidiary. Main component of the space program of New Zealand, the private company developed a suborbital sounding rocket named Ātea (Māori for outer space), and currently operates a lightweight orbital rocket known as Electron, which provides dedicated launches for smallsats and CubeSats. In December 2010, Rocket Lab was awarded a U.S. government contract from the Operationally Responsive Space Office (ORS) to study a low cost space launcher to place CubeSats into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The company was founded in New Zealand in 2006, and established headquarters in California, in the United States of America, in 2013.

The first launch of the Ātea suborbital sounding rocket occurred in late 2009. The 6-metre long rocket, weighing sixty kilograms, was designed to carry a two kilograms payload to an altitude of one hundred and twenty kilometres. It was intended to carry scientific payloads, or possibly personal items. Ātea-1, named Manu Karere or “Bird Messenger” by the local New-Zealanders, was successfully launched from Great Mercury Island, near the Coromandel Peninsula, on November 2009.

Electron is a two-stage launch vehicle which uses Rocket Lab’s Rutherford liquid engines on both stages. The Electron test program began in May 2017, with commercial flights announced by the company to occur in 2020. Launching from Mahia Peninsula (between the cities of Napier and Gisborne), Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 (also known as Mahia Launch Complex or Spaceport) is a commercial spaceport located close to Ahuriri Point, at the southern tip of Mahia Peninsula, on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

Space law in New Zealand

Continuing with the space program of New Zealand, until recently, New Zealand had no specific space regulation, in contrast to many other countries. A key challenge for regulators is how to enable entrepreneurship and innovation, while managing the risks associated with rapidly evolving technologies, and associated market change. In 2015, the New Zealand government decided to enable space launches from New Zealand.

In a little under two years, New Zealand has gone from having no national space law, to having a new act to regulate New Zealand space activities. The Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act was passed in July 2017. The act governs the launch of space objects such as rockets and satellites into outer space from New Zealand (and by New Zealanders overseas), and it regulates launch facilities. The act also introduces a regime to manage certain high-altitude activities that take place from New Zealand, such as high-altitude balloons (high-altitude vehicles operate above controlled airspace but do not go into outer space).

One of the first steps in the process, was to assess whether New Zealand’s existing domestic law was adequate to manage space activities, or whether a new law would be required. At the time that the international Onusian treaties were ratified, New Zealand’s policymakers and legislators clearly deemed legislation unnecessary to implement them. Fifty years later, Rocket Lab’s activities provide a graphic illustration of how developments in technology have changed the space industry, and made it accessible to a wider group of participants. This necessitated a change of view on the need for legislation to implement the rights and obligations of the space treaties. It also led New Zealand to consider how to ensure that legislation would provide a balance between risk management and not inhibiting economic development and innovation.

The 2017 Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Act has proposed the following: the introduction of a licensing regime for space launches, launch facilities, and payloads (like satellites), and a legal framework to regulate high-altitude activities originating from New Zealand. The creation of new penalties for things such as launching a space object without permission and/or intentionally failing to comply with launch permit conditions. The ability to create regulations in the future to ensure New Zealand’s laws around things like the classification of what is or is not a launch vehicle, payload, high-altitude vehicle, or launch facility are up-to-date without requiring a new law to be passed.

The Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA)

In order for Rocket Lab to commence space launch activities from New Zealand, it had to seek approval from the United States of America government to transfer sensitive technology to New Zealand. The U.S.A. would only allow the transfer of this technology if New Zealand concluded a treaty-level Technology Safeguards Agreement with the U.S. government. The TSA imposes certain obligations on New Zealand in relation to the safe and secure transfer, use and management of U.S. space launch technologies.

The majority of the obligations on the New Zealand government are to ensure compliance by Rocket Lab and third parties, such as Rocket Lab’s contractors, with the provisions of the TSA. The TSA also protects New Zealand’s laws and sovereignty over space launch activities from New Zealand. New Zealand is able to veto launches from New Zealand that are contrary to the domestic laws, regulations and policies. While many of the obligations under the TSA could be managed through contractual arrangements with Rocket Lab and the existing criminal law, legislation was necessary to fully implement the TSA. This is what can be said concerning the space program of New Zealand.

Clément Ader and his pioneering work in aviation

On April 2, 1841 was born in Muret, near Toulouse, Clément Ader, son of a carpenter. Excellent student at St Joseph’s boarding school in Toulouse, especially in mathematics and drawing, he engaged in various aerial activities as early as 1855: tests of kites, and even ladybugs hindered! Thus, during the summer, with canvases stretched between arms and legs, he was raised in the wind along the hills near Fabas. In 1856, he entered the Assiot Institution of Toulouse, where he graduated the following year with a Bachelor of Science degree. He was part of the first class of the Industrial School, graduated in 1860. At a time when a lottery was selecting for the national service, the young Clément pulled in 1861 the correct number…

The beginnings of Clément Ader

It was in March 1862 that he began, at the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer du Midi, presided over by Émile Pereire, at Orthez, on the Toulouse/Bayonne line. He thus worked on the Boubouilles bridge at Muret, and at the time knew Douarche, a potter at Castelnaudary. In 1866, Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, also known as Nadar, the first aerial photographer in 1858, created the Society of Encouragement for Air Locomotion, where we find Clément Ader, with Alexandre Dumas, Gambetta, Victor Hugo, Offenbach and Georges Sand. This year, 1866, however, saw Clément Ader leave his company.

Having won numerous local races of balance machines, he bought at the Universal Exhibition of Paris in 1867 a velocipede Michaux. He also built a model of a slider boat with wings. While proposing in 1868 to Marshal Niel, born in Muret, a railway system for Algeria, he filed a patent for rubberised wheels for “Véloce” at the Conservatory of Arts and Crafts (CAM). In 1869, they won many races, with Ader himself second. English velocipedes Turner used these wheels. But the war of 1870 put an end to the industrialisation of his “Véloce”.

Having offered his services to the Ministry of War, he was authorised in September 1870 to try observing kites at the Polygon de Toulouse. He proposed to control them with a steam engine and a man on board. He found premises in Douarche, in December, to continue his activities, while probably helping him to make fixings for his new flat roof tiles. The armistice of January 28, 1871 and the loss of Alsace-Lorraine was hard for him. He then switched to aviation which, according to him, was to allow to counter Germany.

He built in 1873 a glider of twenty kilograms in hollow wood and goose feathers with the help of a cartwright, Bacquié. The wings of seven metres span could move back or forward, and a tail was operated by the legs. He used a spiral profile, called a “suspension curve”, like insects, birds and bats. Attached to the ground by four cables via dynamometers, he realised, at one and a half metre high, the first drag measurements to the world, in the wind of autan. He deduced a fineness of ten, and the need to have an engine weighing no more than eight kilograms. The glider was presented in 1874 at Nadar, rue d’Anjou, where the Parisian adviser Georges Clémenceau could admire it, then in 1883 during the exhibition of the Nadar society at the Trocadéro Palace, for the centenary of the flight of Pilâtre de Rozier.

In order to facilitate his search for financing, Ader moved to Paris. While working on a project of rectangular arched wings, he returned to his first activities, patenting in May 1875 a system of “articulated endless track” for train. In September, he rolled three crawler wagons at Passy, ​​pulled by goats. Other demonstrations followed. He married in January 1877. Probably following the arrival in France in 1877 of representatives of Bell phones, he filed in July 1878 his sixth patent, followed by many others, on the electrophone, following tests with his father. Under these circumstances, Bell joined Ader, which took his first foreign patents in England and Belgium. Concessions were granted in June 1879 by the new Ministry of Posts & Telegraphs for Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, and Bordeaux, to three companies, including that of Ader, which merged in October 1880. In parallel, he invented the same year steel arrows to launch by airplanes against troops on the ground.

Clément Ader, on August 9, 1881, deposited his fourteenth patent, for the “théâtrophone”, in fact the invention of stereophony. The following month he demonstrated it, with equipment manufactured by Breguet, linking with new patents in Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, Russia and the United States of America. He then started working more seriously on airplanes.

Development of the airplane

Famous, Clément Ader was able to visit Strasbourg in July 1882 to observe the flight of storks around the cathedral and a fort. He thus understood the importance of the interaction between the wind and the ground. A few months later, he went to Constantine, with recordings using two dark rooms and stopwatch. He thus realised that the birds used the movements of the air to glide without flapping of wings.

He began to study the engine needed for the flight. In early 1883, he began the study of a machine without rudder. Made in 1884, the engine was successfully tested in 1885 at Digeon. He then made numerous tests for the fuel: charcoal, oil, methyl alcohol… before selecting the latter. It was the same for glued wooden tubes and for linen.

The eighteenth patent filed by Clément Ader on April 19, 1890 for a winged aircraft, was remarkable in every respect: not only did it describe the new solutions in relation to the glider, with warping of the wing, but also the nomenclature with “aviation”, “aviator”, and “aircraft”. The spiral profile was called “lift curve”. He also said he had tried mechanical ladybugs, as well as wings, flying or not, of birds, insects and bats.

While the Ader Éole was over, he made a magnificent gift to his wife, a castle. Clément Ader performed a number of engine and taxi tests, which led to lowering the main wheels to increase wing kink. He was able to gradually increase his speed, until brief uprisings. On October 9, 1890 was the historic flight. The take-off point was materialised by large blocks of buried coal. Some consider the Éole to have been the first true aeroplane, given that it left the ground under its own power and carried a person through the air for a short distance, and that the event of October 1890 was the first successful flight. However, the lack of directional control, and the fact that steam-powered aircraft proved to be a dead end, both weigh against these claims.

Euclid space telescope promises cosmological revolution

Euclid is a visible to near-infrared space telescope currently under development by the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Euclid Consortium. The objective of the Euclid mission is to better understand dark energy (an unknown form of energy which is hypothesised to permeate all of space, tending to accelerate the expansion of the Universe) and dark matter (a form of matter thought to account for approximately eighty-five per cent of the matter in the Universe, and about a quarter of its total energy density), by accurately measuring the acceleration of the Universe. This extraordinary European instrument will produce an unprecedented cartography of the largest structures in the Universe from 2022.

In all space missions, there is a sort of “valley of oblivion” between the moment when they are officially chosen, and when they are launched. For a decade, a media silence, more or less deep, tends to settle. This is not due to any superstition, nor to the observance of a vague cult of secrecy, but rather to the difficulty of creating the event in the process of slow and patient development, inherent in a sector in which each piece is unique, and the right to fail does not exist.

Thales Alenia Space, the European Space Agency (ESA) responsible for the construction of the Euclid space telescope, invited the press late last week to contemplate the “thermo-structural model” of the machine, being finalised in its premises in Cannes. This is a real size model that must validate its design undergoing a battery of extensive tests. But, it will be understood, it is especially the occasion to recall that the “building site” of this extraordinary instrument, selected in 2011 by the ESA, and whose cost could reach more than one billion American dollars, continues its courses. The launch aboard an Ariane 6 is thus still planned for mid-2022 in Kourou, French Guiana.

The Euclid telescope promises to be one of the most powerful instruments of the coming decade

The Euclid telescope promises to be one of the most powerful instruments of the coming decade, with NASA’s much anticipated James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Its designers believe that it could revolutionise cosmology, that is, our understanding of the Universe and its origins. Nothing less.

In the current state of our knowledge, the Universe was born for an unknown reason from a point of infinite density almost fourteen billion years ago. This strange event, commonly called “Big Bang” gave rise to an accelerating Universe under the effect of a mysterious “dark matter”, which forms according to the models, gigantic filaments on which the galaxies (each of which gathers billions of stars, in the image of our “Milky Way”) come to stick as on fly paper.

We introduced two ad hoc parameters, which we called dark matter and dark energy, and all of a sudden everything worked. But it’s pretty miraculous. We must not lose sight of the fact that we just put words on things that we did not really understand, and for which everything is still possible”. The Universe might not be as homogeneous in space and time, as we imagine.

Up to ten billion years in the past

Euclid’s objective is precisely to provide data in order to discriminate existing theories, or even to make emerge new ones. The telescope is going to do the survey of the most complete Universe to date, determining the position and the distance of more than two billion galaxies, going up to ten billion years in the past (for memory, the Universe is almost fourteen billion years old). It will also give the infrared “spectrum” of ten million of them, a kind of extremely bright identity card information. This should make it possible to map out this kind of dark matter spider web that structures the Universe, and to study how it has deformed and evolved over time.

To get an idea of ​​the performance needed to achieve this feat, imagine that it would take nine hundred years to the famous Hubble Space Telescope to make such a comprehensive survey, covering one third of the sky. In fact, all areas that are not obstructed by the stars of our own galaxy, or by the light of the planets of our own Solar System. “We are going to produce this huge catalogue in only six years, which is a real challenge for data management on the ground”. And probably an inexhaustible source of discoveries for astronomers, like the catalogue of another European space telescope, Gaia, which already lists a billion stars in our environment.

Chronology

1905 — A static universe according to Einstein

It was in 1905 that Albert Einstein proposed his theory of gravitation. It would not be a force, but the manifestation of the deformation of the very fabric of the Universe, to which he gives the name of “space-time”, because the two are inextricably linked: gravity deforms both the space and slows down time. The great German scientist thinks that the Universe is static, one of his biggest mistakes.

1922 — A much needed expansion

It is a Russian physicist, Alexander Friedmann, who proposes for the first time in 1922 the idea that the Universe would be expanding. This helps to prevent it from collapsing under the effect of its own weight, which seems inevitable in the Einsteinian framework. This intuition is verified in 1929 by the American astronomer Edwin Hubble, who discovers that galaxies are indeed moving away from each other, and all the faster they are far away. It means in the background that the Universe was once concentrated in a point of infinite density, and that there is a start, what is called the “Big Bang”.

1970 — A mysterious dark matter

In the 1970s, astronomers such as the American Vera Rubin show that the rotation of galaxies is always faster than expected… Everything happens as if large quantities of a mysterious “dark matter”, of unknown nature, were to the work, and as if this dark matter manifested itself only by its gravitational effects, remaining transparent to any other physical reality.

1998 — Acceleration!

In 1998, astronomers discovered to everyone’s surprise that the expansion of the Universe was not uniform in time, but accelerated! This implies the existence of a mysterious repulsive energy, of a nature also unknown, whose calculations show that it should compose almost three quarters of the Universe.

The Lawfulness of Space Mining Activities

For this new Space Law article on Space Legal Issues, we have decided to publish The Lawfulness of Space Mining Activities, a space law Master’s Thesis written by Louis de Gouyon Matignon. Available by simply clicking on the link at the bottom of this article, we hope that this work will help you understand space mining, celestial bodies, the lawfulness of space mining activities, asteroids, asteroid mining…

INTRODUCTION

At a time when resources are scarce, where human needs are growing more and more (and so is demography), and politics is disappearing in favour of greater economic integration, it appears that the exploratory space perspective, and in particular the capacity of the living beings to settle elsewhere than on Earth, becomes feasible. The urge to explore has propelled evolution since the first water creatures reconnoitred the land. Like all living systems, cultures cannot remain static; they evolve or decline.

Private companies, which historically surpass states before making them disappear, accompany this movement of history. Recently, corroborated by cultural productions such as Mars (National Geographic) or Avatar (James Cameron), some have looked at the potential to seek energy outside of planet Earth. This illustrates that humanity is about to live a new moment: the transition from a land-based agro-industrial society, to a service society freed from any energy constraint.

Economy is building the law. And it is therefore quite natural that as History is realised (because of Economy), new legal questions arise. Among these, within a relatively young industry (space activity has for now gone through two movements: first of all, that of “exploration”, by the states and for political reasons, in the 1960s, then, that of the “use”, by companies still largely supported by the states), that of the legality of a potential commercialisation of the resources of outer space, corresponding to a third movement in the space activity, that of the “exploitation” by private companies of the potentialities offered by infinite energy.

The ever-expanding world of technology is constantly turning science fiction into reality. Space mining is an exciting example of this. For decades, scientists have understood that celestial bodies – namely asteroids – contain sometimes high levels of precious metals and other resources. A handful of companies now hope to bring these resources out of orbit and back to Earth. Would these operations be lawful? At a time where environmentally protecting the Earth is (almost) everybody’s concern, and where the depletion of resources is a cause for concern, it is not surprising that some are turning their investments to the wealth available in the Solar System and potentially beyond.

The press has already widely echoed projects led by pioneering start-ups such as Planetary Resources, Inc., or Deep Space Industries. These companies, which raised tens of millions of American dollars, can rely on solid scientific data: the theoretical value of some asteroids, composed in part of gold, nickel, and other precious metals, reaches thousands of billions of American dollars. Closer to Earth is the Moon, which has useful, and therefore precious, resources such as water (which can be used as a propellant), or helium-3 (a future energy source).

Although the large-scale exploitation of outer space resources remains at this stage a long-term project, it illustrates the challenges that space law will have to meet to support an increased human presence beyond Earth. These projects face not only considerable technical difficulties, but also serious legal obstacles. It is to these questions which are nowadays a hot topic in the small space law community that we will try to answer. What are space resources? Does public international law, which space law is a part of, permit the exploitation of celestial resources? What are the legal conditions in which this exploitation could take place? Outer space is in the way of becoming commercialised. The legal framework must catch up.

In the first part of our analysis, we will focus on what public international law provides for the exploitation of celestial resources (I), concentrating especially on the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (A), and the 1979 Moon Agreement (B). In a second part, we will look at some of the solutions envisaged to exploit resources of outer space (II), by focusing on how the concept of exploiting celestial bodies has been imagined by national laws (A), and the ideal international legal instrument that would be needed to ensure a long-term peaceful exploitation of the cosmos (B).

PREFACE

This preface for The Lawfulness of Space Mining Activities was written by Jacques Blamont (CNES), former French space agency’s scientific and technical director, father of planetary balloon exploration, and Space Legal Issues’ Honorary Chairman.

Outer space is generally understood as a global heritage owned by all mankind. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty and subsequent related U.N. legislation prohibit the appropriation of space resources. The philosophy of this legislation is to give precedence to the interest of humanity over any other consideration.

But there is no agreement on the application of such principle. Some consider that the treaty intends to prohibit any exploitation of space resources. Others maintain that the prohibition of appropriation is an invalid concept, and this opinion is widespread.

The general trend supports the interpretation of the principle. In 1973, a provision to the 1979 Moon Treaty maintained that as soon as exploitation of space resources would become feasible, a conference of Members States would establish an international operating system, which would take into account the interests of capable partners. This is to say that the principle of our appropriation would be submitted to the progress of technology.

With indeed the advance of potential exploitation tools, some States have decided to naturally allow to envision prospecting for the exploration of the Moon or asteroids, as Luxembourg, or the United States of America (President Obama signed in 2017 an authorisation for U.S. companies).

The International Treaties are now outdated. The States, and especially the leaders in Space, consider the treaties not only too vague, but not adapted anymore to this present evolution. They feel that a free field should be redefined for profit-oriented enterprises.  And they have the power and the drive to move with strength in that direction.

The past history of the conquest of the world by Europe since the seventeenth Century shows the power of individuals and privates companies, when expansion in a vacuum becomes possible. It will not be stopped in Space within the fast and overwhelming advance of cheap technology, by any U.N. paper.

Adventurers will not stop nor abandon their thirst for huge money grains. Greed will become the main factor of the Space activity, unlimited by any international agreement, as soon as the operations will become easier. Space tourism, what for? Moon exploration, what for? Money. And it is predictable that all existing exosystems with solar systems will not only be impacted, but destroyed. The history of the United States of America in their treatment of the American continent will be followed, whatever the legal rules imposed by the International Community.

Let us hope that Law will stand strong”.

The present Master’s Thesis written by Louis de Gouyon Matignon draws attention on the actual legislation concerning the lawfulness of space mining activities. The author provides data necessary to understand the evolution, which unfortunately, is bleak.

The need to protect satellites

Let us study for this new Space Law article the need to protect satellites. Communications, localisation, observation… Nowadays, the dependence on satellite systems has increased for the realisation of some of these functions, whether they are used for civil applications, as well as in the field of defense. It is therefore essential to be able to ensure the continuity of the services provided by these satellite systems, while ensuring their proper functioning. This of course involves the ability to diagnose possible failures or malfunctions on board, and to be able to remedy them, but also to anticipate the various threats that could be the cause.

The space environment can be a primary source of threat for a satellite system, which must, among other things, cope with a radiative environment (for example with solar flares, or magnetic storms) that can lead to temporary malfunctions or damage. Similarly, the considerable increase in the orbital population (mainly operational or end-of-life satellites, and space debris) has greatly increased the risk of collisions in orbit (especially in Low Earth Orbit), and poses a new threat to satellite systems.

Finally, malicious acts such as cyber-attacks, scrambling or dazzling actions, or the destruction of satellites in orbit (ASAT firing from the ground, for example), are all intentional threats that must be taken into account in order to protect satellite systems. The multiplicity of threats makes this task of protection difficult, because the specificity of their effects implies a specificity of the means of protection to be implemented, and therefore associated costs. It is therefore important to be able to identify all of these threats, to judge their possible occurrences, to understand their potential effects, and then to develop appropriate means of protection.

The 3R concept

The 3R concept, for “Redundancy, Reactivity, and Reconfiguration”, sets the objectives in terms of capabilities to be achieved by a satellite system to best protect from potential threats, and their effects on the service to be rendered, the mission to achieve. The notion of redundancy implies that the mission, and therefore the functions to be fulfilled to achieve it, can be ensured by several elements of the satellite system, thus avoiding any critical path. The concept of reactivity implies that the satellite system is able to identify a malfunction, a threat, and react adequately with the adequate response time. Finally, the concept of reconfiguration implies that the satellite system is able to modify its configuration if necessary, so as to ensure the achievement of the mission and continuity of service.

The need to protect satellites from cyberattacks

A new report says hackers could wreak havoc by interfering with space-based communications, and navigation services. Military satellites face the threat of hackers using malicious code to jam battlefield communications, or disrupt automated missile-defense systems. Attackers can also create fake GPS signals from satellites. Known as “spoofing”, this could be used to surreptitiously redirect everything from planes to ships, and ground forces.

Security researchers have already highlighted the vulnerabilities associated with communications satellites. Hacking satellites could be a far more effective way of compromising an enemy than simply blowing them up. During the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, just over two thirds of U.S. munitions were guided via “space-based means”, up from just a tenth during the first Gulf War in 1990. This “critical dependency on outer space” makes cyber vulnerabilities all the more concerning.

The need to protect satellites from space debris

As the number of space objects in orbit around the Earth increases, so does the chance of them colliding. The speeds at which they travel pose the threat, for each of them, of considerable dangers, if not fatal. Operational objects, manoeuvring or not, operated from the Earth, are added space debris. This diverse population of inactive objects, bringing together satellites of several tons, as well as stages of launchers or even splinters of paintings detached from them, evolves in various orbits.

The increase of this orbital population now seems almost inevitable. On the one hand, the reduction in the costs of access to space, the result of the miniaturisation of satellites, and the drop in launch costs, invites more and more actors to take part in these activities, and those activities to multiply. On the other hand, the proliferation of debris, reinforced by the increasing risk of collisions between them, considerably increases the number of obstacles in orbit.

Ensuring the viability of orbital activities therefore implies setting up a “space traffic management” regime, that is to say a set of rules for the conduct of these objects. This problem, now the subject of many works, is generally referred to by the English expression Space Traffic Management (STM). It cannot be decorrelated from space surveillance capabilities, referred to as Space Situational Awareness (SSA).

Under the lens of law, these space legal issues present a dual challenge. On the one hand, the legal regime for space activities requires the establishment of such a device for its perfect application. On the other hand, law is the appropriate instrument for the construction of these norms. Indeed, the application of certain mechanisms established by space law requires that rules relating to Space Traffic Management be defined. This is particularly the case with regard to liability.

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty and the 1972 Liability Convention cited above establish a very special regime of responsibility, unique in international law. The latter is structured around two possible situations in the event of damage caused by a space object: either the damage takes place on Earth or is caused to an aircraft in flight, or it takes place elsewhere, that is to say in outer space. In the first case, liability is flawless: that is, the mere occurrence of the damage caused by the space object is sufficient to hold the liability of its launching State or one of them in case of plurality of launching States. In the second case, liability is said to be for a fault: that is to say, it is necessary to demonstrate that the damage caused by the space object is the result of a fault. If this double regime presents no conceptual difficulty, the “fault” to which reference is made in the second case, is not defined. Therefore, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to determine with certainty whether the responsibility of a launching State can be accepted in the event of damage that a space object would have caused to another space object.

In this respect, establishing a “Space Traffic Management” regime, widely understood as a set of rules governing the conduct of space objects, is necessary to establish the existence of a fault and with it, to engage the responsibility of a launching State for damage caused in outer space. Failure to comply with these “conduct rules” would constitute misconduct within the meaning of the 1972 Liability Convention, and would thus, make it possible to apply the planned regime strictly. Conversely, Space Traffic Management is one of the major new challenges in space law, as it is the tool by which such a regime can be established. In any case, this set of future standards, governing the conduct of space objects in orbit, will be a component of the broader set of legal and regulatory frameworks for space activities.

It is thus necessary to question the legal scheme that could be appropriate for the establishment of the STM. If examples exist, a reflection by analogy is possible on the form, but inoperative on the bottom. The physical laws peculiar to astronautics make it difficult to establish a system comparable to those put in place in other spaces. By definition, space objects placed in orbit are constantly in motion, and are constrained by their speed. A space object is not manoeuvrable with as much ease as an aircraft, or a ship, and it is thus impossible to imagine today being able to require from a space operator a similar control over its object.

Strictly speaking, concerning the need to protect satellites, the STM should thus be based on a logic different from that adopted for Air Traffic Management, with which it nevertheless shares certain problems. Among them, whether an international institution could play a role similar to that played by the International Civil Aviation Organization for flights conducted in international airspace. Indeed, outer space is not sovereign and thus, shares a status similar to the airspace overlooking the high seas. Just as air traffic and maritime traffic require common and shared rules of all, the future standards of space traffic cannot be defined as anything other than multilateral. It therefore seems that the authorities that should be privileged to lead the work related to the STM are first those that allowed to adopt the legal principles governing today’s space activities. That is what can be said concerning the need to protect satellites.

Solar sails and their legal status

For this new Space Law article on Space Legal Issues, let’s focus on solar sails and their legal status. Solar sails (also called light sails, or photon sails) are a method of spacecraft propulsion using radiation pressure exerted by sunlight on large mirrors. Based on the physics, a number of spaceflight missions to test solar propulsion and navigation, have been proposed since the 1980s. Let’s have a quick look at them and the legal status of these particular spacecraft.

A useful analogy to solar sailing may be a sailing boat; the light exerting a force on the mirrors is akin to a sail being blown by the wind. High-energy laser beams could also be used as an alternative light source to exert much greater force than would be possible using sunlight, a concept known as beam sailing. Solar sails offer the possibility of low-cost operations combined with long operating lifetimes. Since they have few moving parts and use no propellant, they can potentially be used numerous times for delivery of payloads.

Solar sails use a phenomenon that has a proven, measured effect on spacecraft. Solar pressure affects all spacecraft, whether in interplanetary space or in orbit around a planet (or small body). A typical spacecraft going to Mars, for example, will be displaced thousands of kilometres because of solar pressure, so the effects must be accounted for in trajectory planning, which has been done since the time of the earliest interplanetary spacecraft of the 1960s. Solar pressure also affects the orientation of a spacecraft, a factor that must be included in spacecraft design.

The Russian Konstantin Tsiolkovsky first proposed using the pressure of sunlight to propel spacecraft through space and suggested “using tremendous mirrors of very thin sheets to utilise the pressure of sunlight to attain cosmic velocities”. Potential applications for solar sails range throughout the Solar System, from near the Sun, to the comet clouds beyond Neptune. The craft can make outbound voyages to deliver loads, or to take up station keeping at the destination. They can be used to haul cargo and possibly also used for human travel.

IKAROS

IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun), the first spacecraft to successfully demonstrate solar sail technology in interplanetary space, is a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) experimental spacecraft. The spacecraft was launched on May 20, 2010, aboard an H-IIA rocket (an active expendable launch system operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries), together with the Akatsuki, also known as the Venus Climate Orbiter (VCO) and Planet-C, a Japanese space probe tasked to study the atmosphere of Venus. On December 8, 2010, IKAROS passed by Venus at about eighty thousand kilometres distance, completing the planned mission successfully, and entered its extended operation phase.

LightSail

LightSail is a project to demonstrate controlled solar sailing within Low Earth Orbit (LEO) using a CubeSat. The project was developed by The Planetary Society, a global non-profit organisation devoted to space exploration. It consists of two spacecraft: LightSail 1 and LightSail 2. LightSail 1 was an engineering demonstration mission designed to test its new sail deployment method in outer space, while LightSail 2, launched on June 25, 2019 by SpaceX, is a fully functional spacecraft intended to demonstrate true solar sailing. As a solar sail, LightSail’s propulsion relies on solar radiation, and not the charged particles of the solar wind.

The legal status of solar sails

The term Object in reference to outer space was first used in 1961 in General Assembly Resolution 1721 (XVI) titled International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space to describe any object launched by States into outer space. Professor Bin Cheng, a world authority on International Air and Space Law, has noted that members of the COPUOS during negotiations over the space treaties treated spacecraft and space vehicles as synonymous terms. The Space Object can be considered as the “conventional launcher (ELV)”, the “reusable launcher (RLV)”, the “satellite”, the “orbital station”, the “probe”, the “impactor”, the “space telescope”, the “International Space Station (ISS)”… As Professors Diederiks-Verschoor and Kopal wrote in An Introduction to Space Law, the term space object “is indeed the commonly used expression, but it must always be borne in mind that its exact meaning is still not quite clear”.

An object is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “A material thing that can be seen and touched”. The five Onusian treaties don’t use the term satellite, instead opting for “object launched into outer space” in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty or “space object” in the 1972 Liability Convention and the 1976 Registration Convention. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty doesn’t really provide a definition for “object launched into outer space” other than an indication in Article VIII that it includes the “component parts” of the “object launched into outer space”. To add to the mix, Article V of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty uses the term “space vehicle” and the 1968 Rescue Agreement (which is essentially an elaboration of Article V of the OST) uses the term “spacecraft”. A good definition is given by Professor Hobe who write that a “space object is a human made object launched into outer space intended to be used in (as opposed to merely transit through) outer space”.

Let’s remember that “A treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose”, Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 1969. In addition, “Recourse may be had to supplementary means of interpretation, including the preparatory work of the treaty and the circumstances of its conclusion, in order to confirm the meaning resulting from the application of article 31, or to determine the meaning when the interpretation according to article 31: (a) leaves the meaning ambiguous or obscure; or (b) leads to a result which is manifestly absurd or unreasonable”, Article 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 1969.

Let’s recall that a space object causing damage triggers international third-party liability under the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (entered into force in September 1972). Article I (d) of which enounces that “the term space object includes component parts of a space object as well as its launch vehicle and parts thereof”. Its Article II adds that “A launching State shall be absolutely liable to pay compensation for damage caused by its space object on the surface of the Earth or to aircraft in flight”.

A space object requires, thanks to the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (entered into force in September 1976), registration. Article II of which states that “When a space object is launched into Earth orbit or beyond, the launching State shall register the space object by means of an entry in an appropriate registry which it shall maintain. Each launching State shall inform the Secretary-General of the United Nations of the establishment of such a registry”.

Finally, the term space object effectively triggers application of much of both the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (entered into force in October 1967) and the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (entered into force in December 1968). Article VII of the first declares that “Each State Party to the Treaty that launches or procures the launching of an object into outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and each State Party from whose territory or facility an object is launched, is internationally liable for damage to another State Party to the Treaty or to its natural or juridical persons by such object or its component parts on the Earth, in air space or in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies”.

Article 5 of the latter states that “1. Each Contracting Party which receives information or discovers that a space object or its component parts has returned to Earth in territory under its jurisdiction or on the high seas or in any other place not under the jurisdiction of any State, shall notify the launching authority and the Secretary-General of the United Nations. 2. Each Contracting Party having jurisdiction over the territory on which a space object or its component parts has been discovered shall, upon the request of the launching authority and with assistance from that authority if requested, take such steps as it finds practicable to recover the object or component parts. 3. Upon request of the launching authority, objects launched into outer space or their component parts found beyond the territorial limits of the launching authority shall be returned to or held at the disposal of representatives of the launching authority, which shall, upon request, furnish identifying data prior to their return”.

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty doesn’t really provide a definition for “object launched into outer space” other than an indication in Article VIII that it includes the “component parts” of the “object launched into outer space”. It states that “A State Party to the Treaty on whose registry an object launched into outer space is carried shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object, and over any personnel thereof, while in outer space or on a celestial body. Ownership of objects launched into outer space, including objects landed or constructed on a celestial body, and of their component parts, is not affected by their presence in outer space or on a celestial body or by their return to the Earth. Such objects or component parts found beyond the limits of the State Party to the Treaty on whose registry they are carried shall be returned to that State Party, which shall, upon request, furnish identifying data prior to their return”. We’ll conclude with the definition given by Professor Hobe who wrote that a “space object is a human made object launched into outer space intended to be used in (as opposed to merely transit through) outer space”. As a conclusion on solar sails and their legal status, these spacecraft are space objects.

The future space legal issues

What are the future space legal issues? Space law was created in the early 1960s as part of the United Nations, under the leadership of the United States of America and the U.S.S.R., then engaged in the race for the Moon. In the context of tension linked to the Cold War, the two great powers have sought to prevent space from becoming a zone of conflict.

Concerning future space legal issues, the founding text of this new branch of international law is the Outer Space Treaty (OST) of January 27, 1967. This framework agreement was supplemented by four specific international treaties: the Astronaut Agreement of April 22, 1968, the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects of March 29, 1972, the Convention on the Registration of Objects Launched in Space of January 14, 1975, and the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies of December 18, 1979.

These texts lay down a series of great principles which are: freedom of use and exploration of outer space, non-appropriation of outer space, peaceful uses of outer space, protection of astronauts, authorisation and supervision of private space operations, responsibility for potential damages caused by space objects, and jurisdiction and control.

Since its adoption, space law has gone through several periods. First developed in the context of public international law to frame the activities of States in outer space, space law experienced a first significant change from the 1980s with the adoption of national laws aimed at regulating space operations conducted by private companies. Thus, while international law remains the general framework for space activities, they are now directly governed by national law. In France, space activities fall under LOI n° 2008-518 du 3 juin 2008 relative aux opérations spatiales.

The second change in space law, speaking about future space legal issues, aims to place the law at the service of entrepreneurial innovation. This evolution originated in the United States of America, first through the establishment of public-private partnership contracts. Through the 2005 Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS), the 2008 Commercial Resupply Service (CRS), and the 2010 Commercial Crew Development (CCDeV), NASA has signed several contracts to boost the privatisation of outer spaceflights with innovative and cost-effective solutions. Entrepreneurial innovation is also encouraged by the adoption of specific laws in two new areas to support the private initiatives that led to the emergence of what is today-called “New Space”: sub-orbital flights through the 2004 amendment to the Commercial Space Launch Act, and the exploitation of celestial bodies though the 2015 Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act.

Space powers, delegating business to companies, are now refocusing on their military space activities. While some demonstrate their ability to destroy satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and others announce the creation of space-specific armed forces, all fear the possible overflows resulting from this new militarisation of outer space. Finally, the development of outer space activities, with the increase of potential space debris, announces a saturation of some orbits; there is an urgent need to develop “space traffic management” tools, as it is already the case with airspace.

Space mining activities

While natural resources are being depleted on Earth, many of them are available in huge quantities on celestial bodies, including asteroids. Their exploitation, one of the examples of future space legal issues, runs up against Article II of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) which states that “Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means”. All forms of appropriation are prohibited in outer space, including by private persons. This did not prevent the United States of America from adopting, at the request of private companies, the 2015 Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act, or Luxembourg, in search of new markets to compensate the end of banking secrecy, to vote the law July 2017 on the Exploration and Use of Space Resources. Both texts set up a regulatory framework to allow private companies to exploit and sell the resources of celestial bodies.

How can these states affirm the international legality of these laws? Their argument consists in dissociating the appropriation of the celestial body, which is forbidden, from the exploitation of its resources, which would be lawful. Two arguments are advanced here. On the one hand, Article II of the Outer Space Treaty does not mention natural resources, but only celestial bodies. The principle of non-appropriation does not therefore concern resources. Thus, if the appropriation of a celestial body is prohibited, the exploitation of its resources would be lawful. Moreover, the American law expressly states that the United States of America does not claim any right of ownership in outer space. On the other hand, mining is protected by the freedom of use of outer space, proclaimed in Article I of the aforementioned international treaty.

The attitude of the United States of America here recalls the American position vis-à-vis the continental shelf when, on September 28, 1945, President Truman unilaterally proclaimed the jurisdiction of the United States of America over the natural resources of the continental shelf adjacent to the American coasts. Other States having made similar claims, the international law of the sea was eventually modified in the sense of recognition of sovereign rights to the exploitation of continental shelf resources by coastal States. With respect to the celestial bodies, other countries are in the process of developing national legal frameworks for the commercial exploitation of space resources, such as the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. If the national normative movement continues with the adoption of other laws, the international law of outer space, like the international law of the sea, could be modified in the sense of the American national law.

Given the uncertainty of the lawfulness of the laws of the United States of America and Luxembourg, it is important to bring the debate back to an international forum, and find a framework to organise the exploitation of the natural resources of celestial bodies. Among the possible options, the establishment, under the responsibility of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, of a register of national authorisations, specifying the location (and the nature) of prospecting and exploitation operations, has been proposed. Such a system, which is not binding for States, if accepted by the space powers, would also meet the requirements of the 1979 Moon Agreement, and would be likely to reconcile the interests of the space industry around international law. France, which has signed the 1979 Moon Agreement, but has not yet ratified it, could be at the origin of such an initiative.

The militarisation of outer space – future space legal issues

In recent years, military space news has been very regular. The resurgence and reinforcement of the military space policies of the States, including France, is the occasion to return to the legal regime of military uses of outer space. This trend is also likely to revive the debate among States on an arms race in outer space, and its compatibility with the objectives of using space in the interest of humanity.

In the context of the Cold War already mentioned, the U.N. resolutions prior to the adoption of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty specified that space should be reserved only for “peaceful purposes”. But from one resolution to the other, a door to the possibility for States to use outer space as a military arena, has been opened. . Indeed, on May 1, 1960, the U.S. U-2 spy plane was shot down by the Soviet Air Defence Forces while performing photographic aerial reconnaissance, and the opportunities offered by satellites became essential to the geopolitical interests of space nations.

Article IV of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty states that “States Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner”. It then continues with “The Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military manoeuvres on celestial bodies shall be forbidden. The use of military personnel for scientific research or for any other peaceful purposes shall not be prohibited. The use of any equipment or facility necessary for peaceful exploration of the Moon and other celestial bodies shall also not be prohibited”. Since the legal concept of “celestial body” includes celestial objects of the asteroidal type, and planetoid type, the latter are protected from any military exploitation; if not from any commercial exploitation.

As far as the near-Earth space is concerned, article IV of the aforementioned international convention authorises States to transit through outer space, objects carrying nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction. In addition, it is allowed to put into orbit weapons that do not cause mass destruction. Let’s recall that the Preamble of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty affirms the following: “Believing that such cooperation will contribute to the development of mutual understanding and to the strengthening of friendly relations between States and peoples”.

Then came two interpretive theories about the scope and meaning of the “peaceful uses of outer space”. The first, strict, considers that outer space cannot be used militarily, the term being the opposite of peaceful. Space satellites would therefore be prohibited from all espionage, surveillance, and more generally, all military satellites. This is, in any case, the meaning given to the peaceful use provided for in the 1959 Antarctic Treaty System. The second theory, that of non-aggression, considers that non-aggressive military use of outer space can be considered peaceful. It would even be necessary for the maintenance of peace, which would be impossible without constant reciprocal surveillance by States. Moreover, the antonym of “peaceful” is not “military” but “warlike”. The second interpretation, that of “non-aggression”, is today the predominant one.

Space traffic management

As the number of space objects in orbit around the Earth increases, so does the chance of them colliding. The speeds at which they travel pose the threat, for each of them, of considerable dangers, if not fatal. Operational objects, manoeuvring or not, operated from the Earth, are added space debris. This diverse population of inactive objects, bringing together satellites of several tons, as well as stages of launchers or even splinters of paintings detached from them, evolves in various orbits.

The increase of this orbital population now seems almost inevitable. On the one hand, the reduction in the costs of access to space, the result of the miniaturisation of satellites, and the drop in launch costs, invites more and more actors to take part in these activities, and those activities to multiply. On the other hand, the proliferation of debris, reinforced by the increasing risk of collisions between them, considerably increases the number of obstacles in orbit.

Ensuring the viability of orbital activities therefore implies setting up a “space traffic management” regime, that is to say a set of rules for the conduct of these objects. This problem, now the subject of many works, is generally referred to by the English expression Space Traffic Management (STM). It cannot be decorrelated from space surveillance capabilities, referred to as Space Situational Awareness (SSA).

Under the lens of law, these space legal issues present a dual challenge. On the one hand, the legal regime for space activities requires the establishment of such a device for its perfect application. On the other hand, law is the appropriate instrument for the construction of these norms. Indeed, the application of certain mechanisms established by space law requires that rules relating to Space Traffic Management be defined. This is particularly the case with regard to liability.

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty and the 1972 Liability Convention cited above establish a very special regime of responsibility, unique in international law. The latter is structured around two possible situations in the event of damage caused by a space object: either the damage takes place on Earth or is caused to an aircraft in flight, or it takes place elsewhere, that is to say in outer space. In the first case, liability is flawless: that is, the mere occurrence of the damage caused by the space object is sufficient to hold the liability of its launching State or one of them in case of plurality of launching States. In the second case, liability is said to be for a fault: that is to say, it is necessary to demonstrate that the damage caused by the space object is the result of a fault. If this double regime presents no conceptual difficulty, the “fault” to which reference is made in the second case, is not defined. Therefore, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to determine with certainty whether the responsibility of a launching State can be accepted in the event of damage that a space object would have caused to another space object.

In this respect, establishing a “Space Traffic Management” regime, widely understood as a set of rules governing the conduct of space objects, is necessary to establish the existence of a fault and with it, to engage the responsibility of a launching State for damage caused in outer space. Failure to comply with these “conduct rules” would constitute misconduct within the meaning of the 1972 Liability Convention, and would thus, make it possible to apply the planned regime strictly. Conversely, Space Traffic Management is one of the major new challenges in space law, as it is the tool by which such a regime can be established. In any case, this set of future standards, governing the conduct of space objects in orbit, will be a component of the broader set of legal and regulatory frameworks for space activities.

It is thus necessary, in research on future space legal issues, to question the legal scheme that could be appropriate for the establishment of the STM. If examples exist, a reflection by analogy is possible on the form, but inoperative on the bottom. The physical laws peculiar to astronautics make it difficult to establish a system comparable to those put in place in other spaces. By definition, space objects placed in orbit are constantly in motion, and are constrained by their speed. A space object is not manoeuvrable with as much ease as an aircraft, or a ship, and it is thus impossible to imagine today being able to require from a space operator a similar control over its object.

Strictly speaking, the STM should thus be based on a logic different from that adopted for Air Traffic Management, with which it nevertheless shares certain problems. Among them, whether an international institution could play a role similar to that played by the International Civil Aviation Organization for flights conducted in international airspace. Indeed, outer space is not sovereign and thus, shares a status similar to the airspace overlooking the high seas. Just as air traffic and maritime traffic require common and shared rules of all, the future standards of space traffic cannot be defined as anything other than multilateral. It therefore seems that the authorities that should be privileged to lead the work related to the STM are first those that allowed to adopt the legal principles governing today’s space activities.

These selected issues for space law range from the most prospective to the most practical. All three demonstrate the need to stay in an international setting. The international nature of outer space and the idealist objectives of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty require the U.N. to act as soon as possible, remembering that, as written in Article I of the OST, “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”. This is what can be said concerning future space legal issues.

The future of dirigible balloons

Airships (airships or dirigible balloons are types of aerostats or lighter-than-air aircraft) are currently enjoying renewed interest, as evidenced by ongoing programs in France or abroad. This very old aeronautical solution presents an interesting alternative from an economic point of view, because of its sobriety in terms of fuel consumption. Another advantage is its hovering capacity.

The main disadvantages of this solution are its vulnerability to aerological conditions, its low manoeuvrability, and the delicate control of manoeuvres on the ground or near the ground. The two main applications considered, dual, are freight transport and surveillance. The integration of technological advances in the design of these machines (in terms of materials, control, hybrid or all-electric propulsion…) suggests new perspectives.

To see these machines fly one day on a large scale, a major challenge will have to be taken up, that of certification, formed by its three main pillars: airworthiness, pilot training for these very specific aircraft, and their integration into the airspace.

The most promising perspectives for dirigible balloons

The first application concerns the transport of point-to-point freight, heavy and/or bulky loads. This solution can also make it possible to open up isolated areas while avoiding building infrastructures. For example, there is the possibility of a Sahara air link between the oil extraction points and the Mediterranean coast, or the East (where the economic centres are located) and West (where the resources are located) link in China. In France, the LCA60T program run by FLYING WHALES helps to improve logging in mountainous regions. This concept of unprecedented employment is established in collaboration with the French Office National des Forêts.

Another application of interest is surveillance or long-endurance tropospheric observation (five to ten days). In fact, the airspace permanence capabilities of dirigible balloons, potentially far superior to any other aircraft, and in addition to low energy costs, offer interesting prospects. Historically, this application has spawned several developments, including Good Year soft airships in the United States of America. These dirigible balloons were operational until 1962 in the U.S. Navy. Regularly, concepts stand out on these applications. The latest notable achievements in this area are the Blue Devil 2 airship (United States of America) program, stopped in 2012, while the aircraft was almost finished, and Lockheed Martin’s eighty-five meters ling LEMV.

Finally, the dirigible balloons could be used to great advantage for high altitude long endurance applications (twenty kilometres, one year) in the field of monitoring observation, or telecommunications relay. Several projects have been conducted in the United States of America, a program is underway in China (Yuanmeng). In France, the Stratobus project sponsored by Thales Alenia Space is under development. It should be noted that these applications are dual, that is to say, usable in a framework of military employment as well as civil employment.

Promising opportunities for dirigible balloons

Dirigible balloons are mainly used for long-term surveillance purposes. Several categories (volume class) exist, and permanence on the zone can vary from a few days to a month. To hold the wind sufficiently efficiently, it is necessary to use a shaped form that is oriented in the wind bed, and to have a ground station that accompanies the gyration of the dirigible balloon. For these surveillance applications, the United States of America has been using dirigible balloons for four decades: for border surveillance (like the Tethered Aerostat Radar System, or the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System) or advanced databases (like the Persistent Ground Surveillance Systems). In France, several companies manufacture such dirigible balloons; we can cite for example the companies Airstar and A-NSE.

Specificities of the aircraft

The airship belongs to the family of aerostats, that is to say that it uses the principle of buoyancy to ensure its lift, unlike aerodynes (planes, helicopter…) that use the principle of aerodynamic lift. To do this, the airships consist of an envelope of a very large volume in which is imprisoned a gas lighter than air. Helium, an inert rare gas, is used for the most part in current applications. This rare gas is largely preferred to dihydrogen, lighter and more abundant, for safety reasons, because dihydrogen is indeed a highly flammable gas. However, it is not excluded to consider dihydrogen in the future, provided that the safety of the solution is demonstrated.

Flying with a dirigible balloon is therefore based on the control of Archimedes’ principle. Several parameters influence the variability of this thrust. The buoyancy of Archimedes is proportional to the density of the air. This density varies in particular according to altitude and atmospheric conditions. Airships generally operate at constant envelope volume. The difference in altitude will cause a modification of the thermodynamic properties of the gases, resulting in a variation of the volume of the carrier gas. Classically, this is achieved by a regulation based on exchanges, filling/evacuation with the outside air.

It will also be necessary to ensure permanently the vertical balance of the machine, that is to say the first order to balance the weight, and aerostatic lift. The machine mass variations are therefore to be studied with great care: load transfer case (transport application), compensation of fuel consumption. It is therefore necessary to put a gas management system adapted to the use of the airship, which does not exist, or little in the current aeronautical world. It is therefore difficult to find qualified equipment on the shelf, and it will be necessary to develop appropriate equipment (performing from the point of view of mass).

The legal status of dirigible balloons

HAPS are aircraft, usually unmanned airships or airplanes. Stratospheric flights above fifteen kilometres altitude were already made in the 1930s, in balloons with pressurized gondolas, manned by pioneers such as the Swiss Auguste Piccard. In the 1990 and 2000 decades, several projects were launched in order to explore the potential application of high altitude platforms for telecommunications and remote sensing. Large projects were started in the United States of America, Japan, and South Korea. A remarkable fact for the HAPSs concept was the initial definition of a frequency band for its telecommunications services on the World Radiocommunication Conference 1997 (WRC-97), organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which deals with the regulation of the use of radio frequencies. At this conference, the term “High Altitude Platform Station” (HAPS) has been established, defined as a telecommunications station located at an altitude of twenty to fifty kilometres and at a specified fixed point relative to the Earth. This fact shows that, at the time, there was a growing interest in HAPS utilization as a complement to terrestrial and satellite-based communications network. Over the years, several terms have been used for this type of aircraft, such as: “High Altitude Powered Platform”, “High Altitude Aeronautical Platform”, “High Altitude Airship”, “Stratospheric Platform”, “Stratospheric Airship” and “Atmospheric Satellite”. The term “High Altitude Long Endurance” (HALE), which has sometimes been used to label HAPS, is generally more associated with conventional unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), with service ceiling of about eighteen kilometres, as the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk. Currently, the expression “High Altitude Platform” (HAP), adopted by the ITU, has been the most commonly used. The most common types of aircraft used as HAPS are: airplanes, airships and balloons.

The main HAPS applications are in telecommunications and remote sensing, both civilian and military. In the area of telecommunications some of the advantages of HAPSs in relation to terrestrial networks (relay towers) are larger coverage area, less interference caused by obstacles (buildings, ground elevations) and shorter time to deployment. Compared to satellites, HAPSs have the advantages of lower latency (transmission delay) and the possibility of return for maintenance or payload reconfiguration. For remote sensing, HAPSs have as an important advantage over satellites, mainly the low orbit ones, and the ability to remain continuously over an area for very long periods (persistence). Another advantage is to permit better resolution images, because they are closer to the covered areas. Designing aircraft to operate in the stratosphere as HAPS imposes major technological challenges, with the main ones being: lightweight structures, energy generation and storage, thermal management, operation at low altitude and reliability. Some aspects of each of these challenges will be discussed next. The HAPS projects, both airplanes and airships, are optimized for the stratosphere conditions, at altitudes close to twenty kilometres, where the thin air is relatively calm and the wind speed is low.

Another important aspect to be considered in HAPS operations is the coordination with the airspace control organizations. Most of the time of flight of a HAPS is above the air control altitude limit, usually defined at twenty kilometres. The launch and recovery phases, which occur at lower altitudes, should be planned in conjunction with the airspace control agency, with the definition of specific segregated areas for that operation. The integration of unmanned aircraft in not segregated airspace is a subject not yet regulated, mainly due to the issue of avoiding air collisions (“sense and avoid”). Aspects in the field of International Law related to the overflight of other countries also need to be analysed. From 2013, Airbus Defence and Space, Thales Alenia Space, Google and Facebook began investing in HAPS projects mainly aimed to supply Internet in areas without telecommunications infrastructure, bringing new hope to achieve the establishment of a HAPS industry. The future of HAPSs will be driven mainly by the evolution of technologies of potential competitors, such as microsatellites constellations, and the availability of financial resources to overcome the HAPS technological challenges.

As a conclusion, we can believe that those dirigible balloons will be considered aircrafts and will fall under aircrafts legal status.

French ONERA and outer space

Let’s have a look at the French ONERA and outer space. More than sixty years after its conquest, outer space is at the heart of the life of states and their inhabitants. More than ever, it constitutes this “new frontier” and its control is a marker of power and prestige well identified. It is used daily by scientists in the study of an Earth under surveillance, as well as to probe and explore the Universe. It is also part of the day-to-day lives of billions of people, using the geolocation capabilities provided by GPS and Galileo constellations.

In addition, outer space has been heavily militarised since the beginning of its conquest: a ballistic missile transit medium, and a satellite positioning medium. As a post office area, it extends the search for the advantage given by the mastery of a “high point”. It is also an environment intimately linked to nuclear capabilities and state ballistics.

The Defense and National Security Strategic Review, published in December 2017, also makes a special mention of “the exo-atmospheric space” under the heading “disputed spaces”. In particular, it indicates that this is a “poorly regulated” environment, and that the trivialisation of access to outer space will make it an area of ​​confrontation between states, in other words, the question of weaponization of outer space is already in place.

The very recent positions adopted in the United States of America reinforce this trend. At the third meeting of the National Space Council, held on June 18, 2018, the President of the United States of America emphasised the importance of the space sector, in terms of job creation and national pride, but also in the field of defense. It is in this context that he asked the Defense to set up a Space Force.

This trend is also confirmed by the various demonstrations of force that we have been witnessing for years: very recently, it was India that proceeded to the destruction of one of its satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), using a missile, becoming thus the fourth country to demonstrate an anti-satellite capability.

Nothing that happens in outer space is therefore trivial for France and, for about a year now, several initiatives emanating in particular from the Ministry of the Armed Forces, the Ministry of the Economy, and the Ministry of Higher Education, have re-examined the space policy elements of the country.

The Office National d’Études et de Recherches Aérospatiales (ONERA) is the French national aerospace research centre. It is a public establishment, with industrial and commercial operations, and carries out application-oriented research to support enhanced innovation and competitiveness in the aerospace and defense sectors. ONERA was created in 1946 as the “Office National d’Études et de Recherches Aéronautiques”. Since 1963, its official name has been changed to include space activities.

ONERA’s investment in the space sector concerns both civilian and military purposes, where research focuses on space surveillance, the acquisition of geospatial intelligence, or the development of sensors at sometimes unique levels in the world.

Surveillance of space, its challenges of sovereignty, and its diplomatic benefits

The GRAVES (Grand Réseau Adapté à la Veille Spatiale or Large Network Adapted to Space Watch) radar is the only operational space surveillance system in Europe. It is used by the French Air Force and its data are exploited at the CNOA (Centre National des Opérations Aérienne or National Center for Air Operations) based near Lyon. It was designed by ONERA, and it is also ONERA that has driven its realisation. Thanks to the French ONERA, France has an autonomous database of the orbital elements of the different satellites.

Since it was put into operational service in 2005, it has listed and regularly monitored over two thousand and five hundred objects that pass over France’s territory. It allows France to have an autonomous development and maintenance of the space situation in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), on the objects of the range of the mini-satellite at an altitude of roughly one thousand kilometres.

This achievement also illustrates ONERA’s contribution to the sovereignty of France and its diplomacy since, on April 14, 2015, on the side-lines of the Space Symposium, the annual meeting of space professionals in Colorado Springs, the French Joint Space Command (CIE) and the U.S. Strategic Command have signed a technical arrangement to strengthen bilateral Franco-American cooperation in the area of ​​space surveillance. This arrangement was a continuation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in January 2001; it extends the sharing of useful data for space surveillance, ensures the safety of satellites, and combats the proliferation of space debris.

ONERA is now working on the future of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) monitoring, that is to say, altitudes below two thousand kilometres, by proposing a system capable of responding to the challenges dictated by developments in the space environment. In the future, it is a question of having the knowledge to adapt to the dynamics of the new objects in orbit, to improve the detection of smaller and certainly manoeuvring satellites, and to catalog many more numerous and more varied measurements. In summary, it will be necessary in the near future to be able to catalog smaller space objects, in greater numbers, and at higher altitudes.

Space surveillance is not limited to the use of radar, but includes optics through the use of adaptive optics skills. Adaptive optics enable real-time correction of disturbances caused by turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere, and provide a high-resolution image of a satellite in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) by enabling the subsystems of which it is composed, to be identified. ONERA uses a telescope of one meter and a half diameter, equipped with an adaptive optics system, including a wave surface analyser, and deformable optics to obtain images and video sequences of satellites.

Meteorology, a natural supplement of surveillance – French ONERA

Outer Space is also a medium that can be dangerous simply because of the natural phenomena of which it is the seat. We know how atmospheric meteorological conditions affect military operations and, like classical meteorology, there is also a space weather whose knowledge is decisive for a space power such as France. ONERA has dedicated scientific teams to this activity, notably to model radiation belts and charged particle fluxes, and to study theoretically and experimentally the interactions between a satellite and its environment. This knowledge of the environment also allows to be able to differentiate, to remove any ambiguity, between disturbances of natural origin, and aggression. It will be a question of being able to qualify the real dangerousness of the threats which will appear, and to deduce the risks incurred, in order to elaborate the solutions of mitigation of these risks, even of protection of satellites.

The ballistic anti-missile space alert: a recurrent concern

The proliferation of the ballistic threat is certainly not a new subject, but it has been particularly acute for some time now, with the recent demonstrations of North Korea. Recently, Iran tested its Khorramshahr missile, with a range of two thousand kilometres, a missile of North Korean origin based on a Russian missile.

To be able to counter a ballistic missile, the key point is to be able to detect its launch early enough to allow a missile defense system to come into action. Ten years ago, France launched two satellites named SPIRALE that made it possible to have a satellite capable of detecting missiles, and, above all, to collect a harvest of information. SPIRALE has indeed enabled the creation of a database that includes a very large number of images essential to the understanding of natural and physical phenomena that can generate false alarms during the detection of missiles during their propulsion phase.

French ONERA was in charge of exploiting this database, by confronting it in particular with the results of modelling of the ground in the infrared on the one hand, and infrared signatures of the missiles on the other hand. French ONERA used its expertise in modelling atmospheric scenes and measurements of cloudy scenes in the infrared domain. Regarding missile signature modelling, this is a difficult problem because it involves several disciplines (aerothermochemistry, radiation, influence of turbulence…) to obtain a representative result.

It can be seen that France has many assets to cope with the growing demand of its Armed Forces for the space environment. This is particularly the case in many highly technological sectors, such as sensors, whether optoelectronics or radar. On the other hand, France has been witnessing for several years now an acceleration of the pace of innovation, and a multiplication of actors. Although France must not lose sight of the fact that the gains made by private actors, particularly in the United States of America, traditionally cited as examples, are based on a long-term effort by the federal state, it is essential for France to find or acquire a pioneering spirit. After all, to mention only the military space, France did it with missions like Clementine or Spirale not so long ago.

Space archaeology: how to protect lunar sites?

For this new Space Law article on Space Legal Issues, let’s have a look at space archaeology. As private companies or NASA revive the space race to Mars, the Moon has once again become an important landmark in space exploration. How to protect the first sites of space exploration, when space is supposed to belong to everyone? The trace of the boot left on the lunar floor by Neil Armstrong in July 1969 is still intact, fifty years later.

Two golf balls, a work of art entitled “Fallen Astronaut”, a falcon feather, twelve pairs of space boots, ninety-six bags of excrement, and especially more than fifty remains of space vehicles, from stages of the rocket Saturn V, to the lunar exploration modules used by NASA… On the Moon, the traces of the passage of our specie remain immutable for fifty years, insensitive to the passage of time.

Really? In the wake of the renewal of space exploration, while NASA and private companies, SpaceX in the lead, announce wanting to send people to Mars, the Moon seems to have become a point of step in the race for outer space. The footprints of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and the astronauts who followed them, are still printed in the lunar dust, and it would be enough for a new explorer to venture a little too close to this historic site, to destroy its archaeological character.

Return to the Moon: a stage of space exploration,and space archaeology?

If Donald Trump wishes to return to the Moon in the next five years, as he has announced, it is primarily by political calculation. In 2020, the current president of the United States of America is expected to run for a second term, and such a promise is in line with its flagship slogan: “Make America Great Again”. Bringing the race to the forefront, with a return to the Moon announced for 2024, Donald Trump indirectly invokes the fantasy past of the Kennedy era, and hopes to reconnect with the era of American success.

NASA is not the only one to want to return to the Moon. Our natural satellite is an obligatory step in the conquest of the Solar System, and Chinese as Indians, in full development of their respective space programs, have already announced they want to go there by 2030. On the side of private companies, some entrepreneurs are more willing to promote space tourism. Others have put the Moon at the heart of their communication, like the Berlin company PTScientists, supported by Vodafone, which has already announced its willingness to install a mobile antenna on the Moon, in order to facilitate future scientific explorations…

The company does not deprive itself and announced its willingness to take advantage of missions to return to the landing site of the Apollo 17 mission, the last to have taken our specie on the Moon, interesting for space archaeology. “Outer space belongs to everyone, and with Mission to the Moon, we invite the world to join us at this pioneering stage of access to space exploration. The inspiration transmitted by the Apollo missions touched people who, like me, were not born and could not live them. Apollo 17 marked the end of a chapter in space exploration, but as we enter a new chapter, private exploration, I want to create a new Apollo Moment, to inspire a new generation of explorers, engineers and scientists”.

The Berlin company plans to visit the Apollo 17 site to photograph the abandoned rover on site. If it announced that it has partnered with For All Moonkind, Inc., an international NGO whose sole purpose is to preserve the historical legacy of our specie in outer space, and work hand in hand with NASA, its intentions have led to questions about how best to safeguard these historic sites.

Is outer space belonging to everyone?

But is outer space belonging to everyone, as Robert Boehme, from the Berlin company PTScientists, says? And should “Neil Armstrong’s footprints be on the moon for all eternity?” recently asked The New York Times. Let’s recall that the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (entered into force on October 10, 1967), in its Article I, 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”.

Article II of the aforementioned international convention declares that “Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means”.

The first two articles provide that no state may appropriate outer space, so nothing protects the sites where the American astronauts landed, if not classical law. The legal regime of objects brought into outer space or on celestial bodies obeys the principles of protection of private property, and restitution to the owner. Unless a declaration of abandonment by the owner, which has never been the case, there is no concept of wreck in space law. It is the protection of objects and their constituent elements that is put forward. It is therefore forbidden to pick up a golf ball. But if the objects of NASA still belong to the American space agency, nothing prevents new astronauts, or even robots, to walk on the sites, on the footprints of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

As a conclusion on space archaeology, nothing in space law prohibits the U.S. from setting up facilities to protect archaeological sites, and artefacts, such as a “base-museum”. The only legal obligation is that those installations or sites remain accessible to other states. The other option, if the U.S.A. cannot afford to return to the Moon to build the facilities necessary for the preservation of the places, would consist to ask for “international protection by the inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage Centre”. This is the option favoured so far by the NGO For All Moonkind, Inc., which is working to create a text that would preserve the legacy of our specie in outer space, a first draft of which was publicly released last April. The NGO intends to propose to the United Nations a program for the preservation of lunar sites that has been pre-validated by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). If this proposition was to be accepted by the U.N., it would be the responsibility of all actors of outer space exploration, to preserve the archaeological sites beyond Earth, whether on the Moon, Mars or elsewhere. This is what can be said concerning space archaeology.

Aircraft certification

In our research on Space Law, we wanted for this new Space Legal Issues article focus on aircraft certification. The recent crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane casts doubt on the certification methods of airliners. These long and laborious procedures have been proven, but the crash of two Boeing 737 Max in a few months, calls into question their effectiveness.

Should the methods of certification of airliners be reviewed? The question arises after two successive accidents on Boeing’s latest aircraft, the 737 Max, which claimed the lives of three hundred and forty-six people. Since March 12, 2019, the plane has been grounded, and the air sector is facing a systemic crisis: the American supervisory authority, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), and Boeing, are accused of having put on the market a faulty device.

Long and thorough test phases – Aircraft certification

The aircraft certification phase takes time: between the very beginning and the end, the procedure extends over at least five years. The certification tests actually start from the beginning of the launch of a new aircraft program: in the case of the A380 for example, these tests began in 2002, when the first elements were manufactured. The inaugural flight only took place in 2005, and the aircraft was put into service two years later, in October 2007, at Singapore Airlines.

We do not certify the aircraft directly as such in one piece, we first test the different parts one by one, on the ground or on other aircraft”. For a new engine, the test engineers install it on the wing of an aircraft already in service, and check that it works well. It will only be installed on the new device once these tests are completed. “The plane itself is tested in a wind tunnel to verify that it is stable and balanced. All this is verified also in simulator. Then we get closer to the final version”. The prototypes (they were five in the case of the A380) then make tests of rolling, take-off at low altitude, before moving to more and more complex flights. “In the long term, we test the device in more and more extreme conditions: cold, hot, rain, thunderstorm, lightning… The goal is to test all the cases in order to reach an optimal safety for the passengers”.

Are there failures? “It’s very rare, because a large part of the parts have already been validated, we know what we expect, and we especially need to verify that the behaviour of the aircraft corresponds to the projections”. This test phase is now much less risky than in the past: “Thirty or forty years ago, test pilots were practising a risky profession where their intuition counted much more than today, where simulations predict very well the reality”. Nevertheless, sometimes, the test phases lead to changes that were not planned. During the first flights of the A380, the landing gear did not fit properly, and had to be modified.

Tests conducted by manufacturers under the control of independent authorities

A significant proportion of new aircraft are self-certified by manufacturers. A number of things do not need to be verified or validated: for example, all systems already certified and reused in a new aircraft (throttles, flaps…) have been validated on a previous device”. “On the other hand, the evolutions and innovations must be the subject of an additional certification by the regulatory authorities: the new sensors, the new flight controls, the new flight laws (which protect the aircraft, including actions of the pilots, in order to maintain it in stable flight”. These certifications can be local, conducted by a country. In China, aircraft produced and operated in this country are allowed to fly, but the manufacturers do not even try to get the European or American certificates, because these devices have absolutely no reliability required.

On the other hand, concerning aircraft certification, other certifications have the value of opening up access to all skies: these are the labels issued by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration for the United States of America) and EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency for the European Union). These are extremely reliable certificates that have a high degree of trust. Typically, if the American authority certifies an airplane, this aircraft will also be accepted on the European territory. And everything, absolutely everything, is subject to certification. There are hundreds of standards for the smallest part, the least nut, the way to tighten the nut. When it was desired to remove the ashtrays armrests, it had been necessary to re-certify the entire seat while this modification was not about a vital equipment. No part without certification explains that this procedure is extremely expensive in time and therefore in money: one imposes a precision and obligations disproportionate compared to most other industries.

Revocable certifications in case of problems

Despite this amount of checks, there are still problems with aircraft entering service. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner was banned from flying for three months in 2013, because of the overheating of its lithium batteries, which threatened to catch fire, and spread the fire to the rest of the aircraft. But since then, the corrections made by the engineers have made this aircraft a model of reliability: no serious accident to report.

Other cases are more dramatic, like that of the 737 Max, the latest version of the Boeing single-aisle aircraft, whose first flight took place in 1967. This new aircraft, put into service in 2017, was built to nearly four hundred copies, but it is forbidden since March 12, 2019. Most countries of the world have withdrawn its certificate after two accidents that killed all people on board: the Lion Air 610 flight on October 29, 2018, which crashed in the Java Sea, and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, on March 10, 2019, which crashed near Addis Ababa. In both cases, the aircraft dipped shortly after take-off and the pilots failed to regain control. “These two accidents are a systemic crisis for the airline industry in the United States of America, because they directly challenge Boeing and the FAA. Boeing for having built a failed aircraft, and the FAA for failing to properly control the evolutions on this aircraft”.

At the heart of the problem: the new Boeing-designed flight control system called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). The 737 Max carries larger reactors, which had to be advanced and raised, to avoid being too close to the ground. But the centre of gravity of the aircraft was changed, and Boeing added an anti-stall safety system. But this system is based on a single probe, which sometimes sends misinterpretations, and orders the aircraft to prick forward. It is this system, which the pilots did not know how to deactivate, which would be at the origin of the crashes.

Also, the American manufacturer is also accused of wanting to minimise the changes made on the 737 Max, compared to the older generation of this aircraft. “The more change there is, and the more the companies have to incur training costs for their pilots”. After the first report of the Ethiopian investigators on April 4, Boeing took note that this device was involved and promised swift changes.

Kourou, the European spaceport

Kourou, the European spaceport, was not chosen by chance to become this special land, formerly of the French space program, and today of iconic European missions, and satellites from around the world. Favourable climate, near the equator, opening onto the ocean… Beyond these natural assets, if the CSG (Centre Spatial Guyanais), the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s spaceport, retains its place in the international chessboard, it is because it knows how to continually adapt to the expectations of satellite customers, and technological developments in the field of launchers and ground means.

Kourou and France

If the first Diamant rocket, launched from Hammaguir, raises France to the rank of third space power in the world (after the U.S.S.R. and the United States of America), it is indeed in Kourou that this adventure, then French, will take the scale of an epic. While France launches its first satellite, Astérix, since Algeria in 1965, Kourou embraces its fate as a land predestined for space activities. Barely four years after the decision to settle in Kourou, the European spaceport will launch its first sounding rocket, Véronique. It was April 9, 1968; the launch marks the operational qualification of the CSG. Then, more than three hundred and fifty rockets will be launched from French Guiana between 1968 and 1992.

Each flight of one of these machines marked a step towards mastering the ground facilities of a launch pad, and the birth of the Ariane program. It is this technical excellence supported by the unwavering political will of the European collaboration to guarantee an autonomous access to outer space that traces even today the contours of the future of Kourou, the European spaceport. What makes Kourou a privileged land: a wide opening on the Atlantic Ocean, and the possibility of launching space assets towards the East, without risk for the population and the surrounding goods, the proximity of the equator which allows to benefit the maximum of the energy provided by the speed of the rotation of the Earth (effect of slingshot), and thus makes gain the launcher a precious complement of speed, a vast, sparsely inhabited territory, and an area sheltered from cyclones.

Kourou, the European spaceport, is where the first French spacecraft will be assembled, but also where crucial missions for the young space power will start from. In 1979, France decided to have its own telecommunications system, already facing the American supremacy in this area. It is from Kourou that the two generations of the first Telecom satellites will fly away. With seven launches between 1984 and 1996, the constellation will offer the first telecommunications services to businesses and citizens of France.

In the field of observation, Kourou, the European spaceport, sees the entire constellation SPOT (Earth Observatory System). Started in 1977, the history of these satellites designed by CNES intertwines with that of the Ariane family. The first is launched in 1986 aboard an Ariane 1, and the last in May 2002 aboard an Ariane 4. SPOT then offers a vision of more precise Earth, and opens a plethora of applications of cartography to measuring the impact of natural disasters.

Today, France still relies on the CSG for its strategic missions in the field of defense. A recent example is the launch in December 2018 of the CSO (Optical Space Component) satellite. Under CNES contracting authority, these military observation satellites must contribute to strengthening the capabilities of the French forces in the field of space intelligence, support and conduct of operations on battlefields.

Kourou, the European spaceport and Europe

Following an agreement concluded between the French Government and the European Space Agency (ESA) in 1975, the CSG becomes Europe’s spaceport, the launching ground for the European launchers Ariane and Vega. Today, with Ariane 5, Vega and Soyuz, the CSG carries out ten to twelve launches a year but, above all, it guarantees autonomous access to outer space for the twenty-two ESA member states, and for space programs of the European Union.

Kourou, the European spaceport, has played a major role for Europe. From Earth observation to planetary exploration, the CSG teams have made and launched crucial missions for science, Europe and its citizens. It was from Kourou, aboard Soyuz and then Ariane 5, that the satellites of the Galileo constellation were put into orbit, guaranteeing an autonomous access to geolocation data, a European response to the U.S. GPS (Global Positioning System), the Russian GLONASS, and the Chinese Baidu.

There has also been the ATV, the cargo ship of the International Space Station (ISS), launched between 2008 and 2014, the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle or IXV (an atmospheric re-entry test vehicle, launched in 2015), the same year as LISA Pathfinder (observing gravitational waves). More than thirty years ago, ESA launched Giotto, a European robotic spacecraft mission from the European Space Agency. The spacecraft flew by and studied Halley’s Comet, and in doing so, became the first spacecraft to make close up observations of a comet. It was in July 1985, aboard an Ariane 1. It was then the first mission of ESA to deep space. In the field of exploration, there has also been Rosetta, which was a space probe built by the European Space Agency, and launched on March 2, 2004 from Kourou, the European spaceport.

More recently, in 2018, BepiColombo flew from Kourou, the European spaceport, to join the planet Mercury. In terms of Earth observation, there has been TOPEX/Poseidon, launched from the CSG in 1992 aboard an Ariane 4, or the Pléiades constellation. It is also from Kourou that the European meteorological satellites of the European organisation EUMETSAT where launched from. After the first successful launch of Ariane 1, on December 24, 1979, CNES created Arianespace and brought Europe into the commercial market. Among the first customers, Intelsat has been launching since the CSG since 1983. One of its satellites was aboard Ariane 5 for its hundredth launch last year.

It was in 1984 that the first commercial flight under the banner of the Arianespace operator took place. It allowed the Spacenet 1 U.S. satellite to go into orbit. From its first steps on the commercial market, Kourou, the European spaceport has attracted American customers but not only. Among the historical customers, hosted in Kourou on several occasions, there has been for example the European Eutelsat, the Japanese JSAT, or the Indian Space Agency, which has been a loyal user of Ariane since the beginning. It was at the end of the 1980s that the order schedule was filled; rates increased to ten to twelve launches per year; Arianespace is the world leader for commercial launches. Today, customers come from all over the world to launch from the CSG, which has become a real window of French Guiana to the world.

With the Ariane saga, and the entry of Europe into the commercial arena, outer space is gradually becoming a buoyant economic sector in French Guiana. Today, according to the latest figures from INSEE published recently, outer space represents fifteen per cent of the wealth creation of the region, fifty-eight million American dollars in tax revenues, including twenty-two per cent of the granting of the ocean, and eleven per cent of investment. Forty companies are located on the launch base, whether their activity is directly related to the space sector, or the services necessary for its development and maintenance in operational condition. In French Guiana, outer space accounts for more than four thousand and five hundred direct, indirect and induced jobs within and outside the CSG, representing nine per cent of the region’s active population.

Space arrived by surprise in French Guiana, and it is now rooted in this territory, and has become a symbol and a partner of its development. CNES, according to the orientations defined by its supervisory ministries, contributes to the development of the territory on projects for the future of French Guiana, alongside the local authorities, and public partners. It is from Kourou — and Sinnamary, because the CSG is established on these two cities — that the European space has today to face the more and more rough competition. To this end, Kourou, the European spaceport, is preparing to host at the turn of the decade, Vega-C and Ariane 6, new European launchers. Kourou, the European spaceport, also has to modernise, in its infrastructures and its processes, to remain a reliable, adaptable, and competitive. An ambitious modernisation program is being prepared, with the faithful support of the European Space Agency (ESA) and its Member States.