Louis de Gouyon Matignon

Why does the FAA uses 50 miles for defining outer space?

Why does the FAA uses 50 miles for defining outer space?” is a question some of us might have asked ourselves, especially when looking at the question of the delimitation of outer space, the different approaches – spatialist or functionalist – to space activities. For this new space law article on Space Legal Issues, let’s have a look at the choice of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use 50 miles (roughly eighty kilometers) as the boundary between the atmosphere and outer space.

Outer space, beyond being the final frontier, is different things to different people. For pilots, outer space is beyond the atmosphere, where they no longer have aerodynamic control and vehicles must be controlled in their position and altitude by thrusters. For a meteorologist, outer space is where there is insufficient atmosphere to cause a measurable barometric pressure. For a planetary scientist, outer space is that edge of the Earth’s influence called the magnetopause, the last vestiges of Earth’s magnetic field in wispy remnants of ionized particles marking the presence of our planet. For cosmologists, outer space is beyond that, beyond the very fringes of our Solar System, past even the distant orbiting, icy rocks of the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud, extending billions of miles and out to the very limits of where the pressure of sunlight is bounced against the interstellar gas position known as the heliopause. However, when we use human beings as a measure of outer space, the distance above our home planet is dramatically less.

The argument about where the atmosphere ends and space begins predates the launch of the first Sputnik. The most widely – but not universally – accepted boundary, is the so-called Kármán line, nowadays usually set to be one hundred kilometers, but boundaries ranging from thirty kilometers to one and a half million kilometers have been suggested. Although the subject has not been much addressed in the physics literature, there is an extensive law/policy literature on the subject.

The Armstrong limit

The Armstrong limit or Armstrong’s line is a measure of altitude above which atmospheric pressure is sufficiently low that water boils at the normal temperature of the human body. Exposure to pressure below this limit results in a rapid loss of consciousness, followed by a series of changes to cardiovascular and neurological functions, and eventually death, unless pressure is restored within sixty to ninety seconds.

On Earth, the limit is around eighteen to nineteen kilometers above sea level. The term is named after United States Air Force General Harry George Armstrong, who was the first to recognize this phenomenon. At or above the Armstrong limit, exposed body fluids such as saliva, tears, urine, and the liquids wetting the alveoli within the lungs (but not vascular blood) will boil away without a full-body pressure suit, and no amount of breathable oxygen delivered by any means will sustain life for more than a few minutes. The NASA technical report Rapid Decompression Emergencies in Pressure-Suited Subjects, which discusses the brief accidental exposure of a human to near vacuum, notes that “The subject later reported that his last conscious memory was of the saliva on his tongue beginning to boil”.

Well below the Armstrong limit, humans typically require supplemental oxygen in order to avoid hypoxia (a condition in which the body or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply at the tissue level).

The Kármán line

The Kármán line is an attempt to define a boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. This is important for legal and regulatory measures: aircraft and spacecraft fall under different jurisdictions and are subject to different treaties. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (or World Air Sports Federation), an international standard-setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics and astronautics, defines the Kármán line as the altitude of one hundred kilometers (sixty-two miles) above Earth’s mean sea level. Other organizations do not use this definition.

The line is named after Theodore von Kármán, a Hungarian American engineer and physicist, who was active primarily in aeronautics and astronautics. He was the first person to calculate the altitude at which the atmosphere becomes too thin to support aeronautical flight; the reason is that a vehicle at this altitude would have to travel faster than orbital velocity to derive sufficient aerodynamic lift to support itself. The line is approximately at the turbopause, above which atmospheric gases are not well-mixed.

The 50 miles line

In the late 1950s the USAF decided to award astronaut wings to pilots flying above 50 statute miles. This boundary was chosen as a nice round figure, but I want to argue that it is also the right choice from a physical point of view. It seems natural to choose the outermost (physical atmospheric) boundary, the mesopause, as the physical boundary which marks the edge of space. It turns out that the traditional value for the height of the mesopause, eighty kilometers, is also within five hundred meters of the 50 mile astronaut wings boundary historically used by the USAF. I therefore suggest that we adopt as the formal boundary of space an altitude of exactly eighty kilometers, representing the typical location of the mesopause”.

After combing through numerous sets of orbital statistics for spacecraft over the years, McDowell came up with an estimate that he says is more precise than the one currently used by the FAI: eighty kilometers, plus or minus ten kilometers. In easy-to-understand terms, this is the lowest altitude a satellite can go and still complete orbits around the Earth. To stay in orbit, and also reach such a low altitude, the vehicle has to be in an elliptical orbit. That’s one where the spacecraft swings out far away from Earth most of the time and comes in close to eighty kilometers for just a brief part of the trip. In this configuration, a spacecraft can stay in orbit for days or weeks, according to McDowell. McDowell says that 50 miles (eighty kilometers) is the point at which gravity becomes more important than the atmosphere. “You’re in space if you can basically ignore the atmosphere. And that doesn’t mean it has no effect, but gravity is the dominant thing you have to worry about”.

Even above 50 miles, Earth’s atmosphere still exists – it’s just super thin. Satellites that orbit much higher than 50 miles are still interacting with the particles from our atmosphere. The air is just so thin that it’s not detrimental to a spacecraft’s orbit. “So then the question is, where do you draw a boundary where you’re no longer in space? It’s when you can’t even dip through the atmosphere briefly at orbital speed and keep on going” says McDowell.

So if this is the most technical answer, how did the FAI’s formal definition end up set at one hundred kilometers? Theodore von Kármán himself set his own limit at eighty-three kilometers in 1956; however he wasn’t even trying to find the boundary of outer space. He was mostly trying to define how high a plane could fly and still achieve lift. Ultimately, this limit was misinterpreted as the boundary of outer space: “Around 1960, the FAI decided to set the limit at one hundred kilometers, just for the purpose of record setting flights – that any flight above that would be considered to be a spaceflight”.

However, not everyone adheres to the FAI’s definition of outer space. The US Air Force, for instance, already sets the limit at 50 miles, or roughly eighty kilometers, and will give badges to any of its personnel that fly above this height. NASA does the same. And while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not have an official definition, it usually gives out astronaut badges to those who have gone above 50 miles. It’s something that may become more defined as more commercial actors go to space. While different organizations have their own definitions, there is no universal agreement. In fact, the U.S.A. maintains that defining space through international law just isn’t necessary: “With respect to the question of the definition and delimitation of outer space, we have examined this issue carefully and have listened to the various statements delivered at this session. Our position continues to be that defining or delimiting outer space is not necessary. No legal or practical problems have arisen in the absence of such a definition. On the contrary, the differing legal regimes applicable in respect of airspace and outer space have operated well in their respective spheres. The lack of a definition or delimitation of outer space has not impeded the development of activities in either sphere”.

Who was Vikram Sarabhai?

Indian Vikram Sarabhai, in full Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai, was born on August 12, 1919, in Ahmadabad, India, and died on December 30, 1971, in Kovalam (India). Indian award-winning physicist, industrialist and innovator who initiated space research and helped develop nuclear power in India, he is considered the founding Father of the Indian space program. Vikram Sarabhai is also credited with establishing the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Vikram Sarabhai was born into a family of industrialists. He attended Gujarat College, Ahmadabad, but later shifted to the University of Cambridge, England, where he studied natural sciences, in the 1940s. World War II forced him to return to India, where he undertook research in cosmic rays under physicist Sir Chandrashekhara Venkata Raman at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. In 1945, he returned to Cambridge to pursue a doctorate and wrote a thesis, “Cosmic Ray Investigations in Tropical Latitudes” in 1947.

He founded the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmadabad on his return to India, when he was twenty-eight years old. After the Physical Research Laboratory, Vikram Sarabhai set up the Space Applications Centre in Ahmedabad, and guided the establishment of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

The range and breadth of Vikram Sarabhai’s interests were remarkable. In spite of his intense involvement with scientific research, he took active interest in industry, business, and development issues. Vikram Sarabhai founded the Ahmedabad Textile Industry’s Research Association in 1947 and looked after its affairs until 1956. Realizing the need for professional management education in India, Sarabhai was instrumental in setting up the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmadabad in 1962.

After the launch of Russia’s Sputnik 1 satellite, Vikram Sarabhai felt the need for India to have a space agency as well. He convinced the Indian government to start the Indian National Committee for Space Research program with the following quote: “There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society”.

Establishing during the Nehru government the Indian National Committee for Space Research in 1962, which was later renamed the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Sarabhai also set up the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station in southern India. The Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) is an Indian spaceport established on November 21, 1963, operated by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). It is located in Thumba (Thiruvananthapuram), which is near the southern tip of mainland India, very close to Earth’s magnetic equator. It is currently used by ISRO for launching sounding rockets. The first flight was a sodium vapor payload, and was launched on November 21, 1963.

After the death of physicist Homi Jehangir Bhabha in 1966, Vikram Sarabhai was appointed chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India. Carrying forward Bhabha’s work in the field of nuclear research, Vikram Sarabhai was largely responsible for the establishment and development of India’s nuclear power plants. He laid the foundations for the indigenous development of nuclear technology for defense purposes.

Dedicated to the use of all aspects of science and technology in general and to space applications in particular as “levers of development”, Vikram Sarabhai initiated programs to take education to remote villages through satellite communication, and called for the development of satellite-based remote sensing of natural resources.

The Indian space program began well after the pioneer era: the U.S.S.R. launched its first Sputnik satellite in 1957, the United States of America followed in 1958 with Explorer 1 before being joined by France in 1965, with Astérix; the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada and Italy had also launched their own satellite but not independently.

With the live transmission of the 1964 Summer Olympics across the Pacific by the American Satellite Syncom 3, the first geostationary communication satellite launched in 1964 from Cape Canaveral, demonstrating the power of communication satellites, Vikram Sarabhai quickly recognized the benefits of space technologies for India. The Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) was set up in 1962 by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of the Indian Government. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) appeared in August 1969. The prime objective of ISRO was to develop outer space technology and its application to various national needs. It is today one of the six largest space agencies in the world. The Department of Space (DOS) and the Space Commission were set up in 1972, and ISRO was brought under DOS on June 1, 1972. The Indian space program, thanks to Vikram Sarabhai, mainly focuses on satellites for communication and remote sensing, the space transportation system and application programs.

Aryabhata was India’s first satellite, named after the famous Indian astronomer of the same name. It was launched by India on April 19, 1975 from Kapustin Yar, a Russian rocket launch and development site in Astrakhan Oblast, using a Kosmos-3M launch vehicle. It was built by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). “It was not until 1980 to see the first satellite launched by an Indian rocket with an Indian firing point”.

In the 1960s and 1970s, India did not have the means to embark on a space program that rivaled the great powers of the time. The objective was more modest and aimed at putting outer space systems and satellites at the service of national development, all that was needed to get India out of underdevelopment. India was a non-aligned country and the country multiplied partnerships, without choosing a camp during the Cold War: with the United States of America, the U.S.S.R. and France, to develop small launchers or application satellites. “The big problem of India in the 1970s was to master the outer space technologies, including in the field of materials. Launchers required very specific alloys. India started from scratch, but gradually, the country developed its capabilities, at its own pace, it gave itself time”.

Vikram Sarabhai died in the beginning of the 1970s. He has truly created the Indian space program and has influenced astronautics throughout the world.

Who was Alexandre Ananoff?

Alexandre Ananoff was born on April 7, 1910, in Tbilisi, Georgia. Alexandre’s father, Mihran Ananoff, was an important producer of wood, wines and alcohol such as “Champagne” or “Cognac”. Just before the First World War, the country’s situation was not stable. This situation became even worse with the war and the October Revolution of 1917. Mihran Ananoff then decided to leave the country with his wife and son.

In 1921, the family came to finally settle in Paris. They first lived off of the money they had saved in Georgia. After a few years Mihran Ananoff had to do small jobs and the family was forced to move several times, each time to a place with a lower rental fee. Naturalized French, Alexandre Ananoff quickly learned and mastered the French language. Alexandre Ananoff first discovered astronomy, at the age of seventeen: “Nothing drove me especially to the sciences” he explained. “Jules Verne just interested me, no more, as any child. Camille Flammarion’s works led me to astronomy”.

Ananoff then tried to learn more and to master technical domains, such as mathematics and cosmography. He read, inquired and even took lessons. The young man joined the Société Astronomique de France (SAF) and frequented its library. One day, he stumbled upon a work by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. It was a revelation, as Ananoff said: “Luck put me in the presence of a book by Tsiolkovsky and reading it awakened in me the desire to be useful to the cause that is now mine”.

At that moment, Alexandre Ananoff had become an “Astronaut”, that is to say, one of those who “before Gagarin, worked to lay the foundations of space travel or effectively contributed to its growth”. His task was as follows: “To alert the public to interplanetary travel, bring competent people to take an interest in them; complete the building of Astronautics with the addition of new knowledge, and provide the most from France, against its will if necessary, a French Astronautics, solely that it might in the future play a role among other nations”.

On June 8, 1927, Alexandre Ananoff attended the famous lecture of Robert Esnault-Pelterie at the University of La Sorbonne called L’Exploration par fusées de la très haute atmosphère et la possibilité des voyages interplanétaires. He learned about the existence of German work on rockets, including Hermann Oberth, and saw his passion grow. For many years, Ananoff tried to meet Esnault-Pelterie. He finally managed to have an appointment with the French specialist at his office in Boulogne-sur-Seine on September 20, 1936.

Ananoff started collecting “everything near and far related to rocket, jet and interplanetary travel, even cartoons, which appeared from time to time in the general press”. But his “best documentation” would come to be the correspondence, exchange of documents and books with a multitude of specialists in astronautics worldwide. Between 1931 and 1936, the young man increased his participation in astronautics within the Société Astronomique de France. His enthusiasm and personal investment were regularly found in the activity reports of the French SAF.

In 1933, Alexandre Ananoff planned to publish the proceedings of his conferences but he struggled to find funding. During an internship in Larousse’s factory in Montrouge, he printed for himself his first text, entitled Le Grand problème des voyages interplanétaires, thanks to permission he received from Jacques Moreau, head printer. At the end of 1936, Alexandre Ananoff’s reputation was growing. The director of the Palais de la Découverte in Paris, Andre Léveillé, asked him to contribute to the first “Astronautics Exhibition” to be opened in July 1937, during the Universal Exhibition of Paris of the “Arts and techniques of modern life”.

In 1938, Alexandre Ananoff wanted to create a section in astronautics within the Société Astronomique de France. He received the support of André Hirsch and Ms. Flammarion for monthly meetings. After the Liberation and the end of the War, Alexandre Ananoff wanted to continue to promote astronautics and so he re-contacted the French SAF. In June 1945, the French chemist Henri Moureu was working on the German V2 and recovered some debris from missiles that fell near Paris in late 1944. Recognizing the revolutionary aspects of the V2 engine, Moureu planned to create an organization that would work on the development of rockets of the same type, the CEPA. He started to meet all known individuals in France with knowledge concerning rocket engines and contacted Alexandre Ananoff.

In January 1947, Alexandre Ananoff was again contacted by the curator of Le Palais de la Découverte with a request to prepare, together with Henri Mineur (the director of the Institut d’Astrophysique), an “Astronautics Department” on the theme of astronautical navigation. Alexandre Ananoff nevertheless published several articles and gave five lectures in the late 1940s. Some character portraits of the Astronaut were also made in the press.

The decision to hold the first European Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Paris was definitively established on February 16, 1950, after agreement with the British. The following month, the project took an international dimension (as Alexandre Ananoff had always imagined), in order to welcome American participation. This was the most important step in the life of the French Astronaut. Without any help from the secretariat of the Aéronautique Club de France or from any research organization, Alexandre Ananoff was obliged to personally maintain correspondence with foreign countries, to organize the reception of delegates and to establish the program, in his spare time and with his own finances. Feeling quite alone, he even considered for a moment postponing the event to 1951.

More than twenty years after the death of Alexandre Ananoff, it appears that the memory of his significant contributions to space exploration is still to be restored. The founder of the first IAC deserves an actual place in the Pantheon of astronautical history as a tireless pioneer for space education for three decades of his life, writing articles and books, organizing and giving lectures, participating in radio and TV debates, and even making audio records and space drawings: using all the existing media of his time, Alexandre Ananoff was actually one of the first “multimedia” promoters for astronautics.

Commercial Space Transportation Activities

For this new space law article, let’s look at the Commercial Space Transportation Activities. The Office of Commercial Space Transportation, generally referred to as FAA/AST, is the branch of the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that approves any commercial rocket launch operations (any launches that are not classified as model, amateur, or “by and for the government”) in the case of a U.S. launch operator and/or a launch from the U.S..

With the signing of Executive Order 12465 on February 25, 1984, Ronald Reagan designated the Department of Transportation to be the lead agency for commercial expendable launch vehicles. This selection occurred following an interagency competition between the Departments of Commerce and Transportation to be the lead agency. The Office of Commercial Space Transportation (OCST) was established in late 1984.

Under Public International Law, the nationality of the launch operator and the location of the launch determines which country is liable or responsible for any damage that occurs (Article VI and Article VII of the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty). As a result, the United States of America requires that rocket manufacturers and launchers adhere to specific regulations to carry insurance and protect the safety of people and property that may be affected by a flight.

The Office of Commercial Space Transportation also regulates launch sites, publishes quarterly launch forecasts, and holds annual conferences with the space launch industry. The office is headed by the Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST).

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for ensuring protection of the public, property, and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States of America during commercial launch or reentry activities, and to encourage, facilitate, and promote U.S. commercial space transportation. To date, the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) has licensed or permitted more than three hundred and eighty launches and reentries.

The FAA safety inspectors monitor the FAA-licensed activities including launches from foreign countries and international waters. The Federal Aviation Administration has the authority to suspend or revoke any license or issue fines when a commercial space operator is not in compliance with statutory or regulatory requirements. Currently, commercial spaceflight crew and participants engage in spaceflight operations through “informed consent”. Informed consent regulations require crew and spaceflight participants to be informed, in writing, of mission hazards and risks, vehicle safety record, and the overall safety record of all launch and reentry vehicles. Prior to flight, crew and spaceflight participants must provide their written consent to participate.

The Office of Commercial Space Transportation is responsible for licensing private space vehicles and spaceports within the United States of America. This is in contrast with NASA, which is a research and development agency of the U.S. Federal Government, and as such neither operates nor regulates the commercial space transportation industry. The regulatory responsibility for the industry has been assigned to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is a regulatory agency. NASA does, however, often use launch satellites and spacecraft on vehicles developed by private companies.

According to its legal mandate, the Office of Commercial Space Transportation has the responsibility to “regulate the commercial space transportation industry, only to the extent necessary to ensure compliance with international obligations of the United States and to protect the public health and safety, safety of property, and national security and foreign policy interest of the United States”, “encourage, facilitate, and promote commercial space launches by the private sector”, “recommend appropriate changes in Federal statutes, treaties, regulations, policies, plans, and procedures”, “and facilitate the strengthening and expansion of the United States space transportation infrastructure”.

Commercial Space Transportation Activities: licensing

A Federal Aviation Administration license is required for any launch or reentry, or the operation of any launch or reentry site, by U.S. citizens anywhere in the world, or by any individual or entity within the United States of America. A Federal Aviation Administration license is not required for space activities the government carries out for the government, such as some NASA or Department of Defense launches.

Once the Federal Aviation Administration determines a license application package is complete, the FAA has one hundred and eighty days to make a licensing determination. The FAA licensing evaluation includes a review of “public safety issues, such as payload contents, national security or foreign policy concerns, insurance requirements for the launch operator, and potential environmental impact”.

Commercial Space Transportation Activities: experimental permits

The Federal Aviation Administration can issue experimental permits, rather than licenses, for the launch or reentry of reusable suborbital rockets. The FAA issues these permits for “research and development to test new design concepts, new equipment, or new operating techniques, showing compliance with requirements as part of the process for obtaining a license, and crew training prior to obtaining a license for a launch or reentry using the design of the rocket for which the permit would be issued”. No person may operate a reusable suborbital rocket under such a permit for the purpose of carrying any property or human being for compensation or hire.

FAA currently licensed launch sites

The Federal Aviation Administration licenses commercial launch and reentry sites in the United States of America. The following are FAA currently licensed launch sites: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (Florida), Cape Canaveral Spaceport/Shuttle Landing Facility (Florida), Cecil Field (Florida), Colorado Air & Space Port (Colorado), Ellington Airport (Texas), Midland International Airport (Texas), Mojave Air and Space Port (California), Oklahoma Air and Space Ports (Oklahoma), Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska (Alaska), Spaceport America (New Mexico), Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (Virginia).

An important part of the Office of Commercial Space Transportation’s statutory mission to encourage, facilitate, and promote commercial space transportation is specifically in support of the continuous improvement of the safety of launch vehicles designed to carry humans. The FAA’s Commercial Astronaut Wings Program is designed to recognize flight crewmembers who further the FAA’s mission to promote the safety of vehicles designed to carry humans.

Astronaut Wings are given to flight crew who have demonstrated a safe flight to and return from space on an FAA/AST licensed mission. The FAA issued its first license for commercial human space flight on April 1, 2004 to Scaled Composites for the launch of SpaceShipOne (SS1).

Will outer space soon become inaccessible?

The growth of debris in outer space is exponential and collisions between discarded satellites could well trigger a chain reaction known as “Kessler Syndrome”. It would then be impossible to put satellites in orbit.

Last May, Elon Musk’s SpaceX announced that it had launched sixty satellites in outer space, two hundred and eighty kilometres above sea level. The first sixty satellites of a fleet which, by 2024, should contain twelve thousand… And the company has already asked the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) the possibility of deploying thirty thousand additional satellites to provide coverage for the mega fast internet project.

Just four months after that first launch, Atmospheric Dynamics Mission Aeolus, an Earth observation satellite operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), was to increase its altitude by three hundred and fifty kilometres to avoid a collision with just one of SpaceX’s satellites. With a fleet of forty-two thousand satellites weighing around two hundred and fifty kilograms orbiting the blue planet, astronomers are already worried about the risk of collisions and the space debris they could generate.

On the first batch of sixty satellites launched by Elon Musk, six were down, it’s ten per cent of the fleet: we launch space debris!” said Christophe Bonnal from the CNES (French Space Agency). However, space debris, non-functional artificial objects orbiting the Earth, residues of old satellites or propulsion systems, are already far too numerous: there are about thirty-four thousand objects of a size of more than ten centimetres floating above the Earth, at a speed of around thirty thousand kilometres per hour. And their increasing number raises fears the possibility of a chain reaction that would generate more and more space debris…

Sputnik 1, the first space debris

It must be said that the first “space junks” are now sixty years old. On October 4, 1947, the R-7 launcher rushed to the skies with the mission to put the Sputnik 1 satellite into orbit. This first success launches the confrontation between the U.S.S.R. and the United States of America in the race for outer space. If this first scientific feat marks a lot of opinion, we cannot yet see that the achievement of this technological feat is also the first act of outer space pollution: Sputnik 1 is not heavy, barely eighty-fur kilograms, against the six and a half tons that have become useless from the central stage of the R-7 launcher, drifting in the same orbit as the satellite.

After ninety-two days in orbit, Sputnik 1 and its launcher returned to the atmosphere and disintegrated. All in all, the satellite has been operational for twenty-one days. And the satellite then became a space debris which orbited seventy-one days before disintegrating. Finally, a very short time for a space debris, whose life expectancy is rather in years, even in decades.

The satellites of Elon Musk “injected at a relatively low altitude of about four hundred kilometres, should in turn return in five to ten years” said Christophe Bonnal from the CNES (French Space Agency). Because the higher the orbits, the more satellites and orbital waste take time to fall: a satellite located in orbit six hundred kilometres above the ground, gradually brought back to Earth because of the friction with the residual atmosphere, will take several years to fall. As soon as an artificial object crosses the eight hundred kilometres mark, one can start counting in decades before seeing it descend. And beyond one thousand kilometres, it is about several centuries spent circling the Earth.

1 millimetre of aluminium in outer space equals the energy of a bowling ball thrown at one hundred kilometres per hour

No wonder, then, that space debris tends to accumulate around the blue planet… The longer the time spent in orbit, the greater the chance of collision, and therefore of increased debris. The total mass of these is now around eight thousand tons, which is roughly the weight of the Eiffel Tower. The count of space debris orbiting the Earth is impressive: it is estimated that there are more than thirty-four thousand objects of more than ten centimetres, of which nearly twenty thousand are catalogued and therefore followed by detection systems, about nine hundred thousand debris larger than one centimetre, and probably more than one hundred and thirty million debris larger than one millimetre.

The problem is not so much the size of a debris, since outer space is infinite, as the energy released during an impact: moving at about thirty thousand kilometres per hour, an aluminium debris of one millimetre radius releases the same energy as a bowling ball thrown at one hundred kilometres per hour, while a steel debris of one centimetre radius is equivalent to a car launched at one hundred and thirty kilometres per hour. Therefore, the slightest bit of debris can reduce a satellite to a crumb, as we could see in the scene of Alfonso Cuarón’s movie, Gravity.

So far, few satellites have been damaged by debris. The first one was a French military satellite, launched in 1995, named Cerise, both for its French acronym (Caractérisation de l’Environnement Radioélectrique par un Instrument Spatial Embarqué), but also for its form, the latter being provided with a long antenna, since destroyed by space debris.

There are probably a dozen actual collisions per year, but only one statistically catalogued each year. Our models predict a major, catastrophic collision between very large objects, every five years or so. To date, we have recorded five, and about seventy collisions between an uncatalogued object and an active satellite. More recently, in August 2016, a camera onboard the Sentinel-1 satellite, the first of the Copernicus Programme satellite constellation conducted by the European Space Agency (ESA), was able to see the damage caused by a debris of a size of one millimetre on one of its solar panels, resulting in an impact of forty centimetres.

Unfortunately, with the common sense that characterises it, human beings did not wait accidental collisions to increase the number of debris. If several explosions come to strew space with debris, the most important, still to date, dates of 2007, when China decided to demonstrate its anti-satellite missile system on one of its weather satellites, FY-1C. The mission was a success and the resulting explosion created nearly four thousand large debris and nearly one hundred and fifty thousand micro-debris, orbiting at an altitude of eight hundred and sixty-five kilometres. “The most dangerous orbits are the most useful, typically between seven hundred and one thousand kilometres…”.

Of the ten thousand debris threatening the International Space Station (ISS) and closely followed by the U.S. military, nearly three thousand of them come from this Chinese ASAT. In February 2009, there was a collision between the Russian satellite Kosmos-2251 and the American commercial satellite Iridium 33, which collided this time, generating nearly two thousand large space debris. These two events alone increased by nearly thirty per cent the number of debris larger than ten centimetres orbiting the Earth.

However, the risks of such collisions should be a sufficient incentive to try to prevent them, especially since 1978, when NASA consultant Donald J. Kessler has theorised the risks of a chain reaction with a scenario of the same name: the “Kessler Syndrome”. The principle is simple: the more debris in orbit, the more they will hit objects or other debris, which will lead to an exponential increase in the number of debris. Eventually, space exploration and satellite launching would be rendered impossible.

Since 2006, NASA has calculated that if we stopped sending objects in outer space, the number of debris would continue to grow exponentially in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). And thirteen years later, launches, if they have decreased, are far from over. Thus, in 2018, five hundred and eighty-eight new orbital objects were generated in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) through satellite launches, explosions or collisions, while only two hundred and thirty-thee objects were consumed in the atmosphere.

What are the solutions?

Even if the rules were to be respected and the new satellite fleets would escape collisions, there is still the problem of exponential growth of debris. In the immediate future, the solution consists mainly of manoeuvring satellites to avoid them: in 2018, CNES treated three million conjunctions in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) resulting in seventeen satellite manoeuvres. The International Space Station (ISS) had to do twenty-five evasive manoeuvres and, on average, each satellite had to travel one year to avoid space debris.

According to the most optimistic estimates of NASA, and subject to the rules in force, it should however remove about five to ten large debris per year to stop their growth. And in recent years, the solutions are looming: robotic arms, nets, harpoons, lasers designed to target small debris and even “Space Tugs”, responsible for harvesting debris in weightlessness. But if the technical means exist, the political will is non-existent and, considering the costs, no actor of the sector wants to invest to clean the terrestrial orbits.

Women in outer space

Let’s have a look at the place of women in the conquest of outer space. The first one hundred percent female extravehicular activity (EVA), any activity done by an astronaut, spationaut or cosmonaut outside a spacecraft beyond the Earth’s appreciable atmosphere, took place last Friday from the International Space Station (ISS). Presented as an event by NASA, this release reminds us that aerospace remains a very masculine world: only ten percent of astronauts are women.

This is the first time that an extravehicular activity (EVA) takes place in a one hundred percent female tandem. The event took place last Friday, four hundred kilometres above our heads, when American astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir left the cocoon of the ISS to perform maintenance work on the station. A first hailed as an event by the U.S. space agency, but which should not make us forget the still very minority place occupied by women in aerospace.

1963, the first woman in outer space

The history of women in outer space had started well: two years after Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to leave the atmosphere. She is the first and youngest woman to have flown in outer space with a solo mission on the Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963. She orbited the Earth forty-eight times, spent almost three days in outer space, and remains the only woman to have been on a solo space mission. The 26-year-old girl on her first and only flight was selected for her skills, she was a pilot and a paratrooper, but also for her closeness to the Party: she was the secretary of the Yaroslavl Communist Youth Section at the time of application.

But once the flight was done, Valentina Tereshkova never flew again. Promoted as a figure of equality between men and women supposed to exist within the socialist bloc, she was made “hero of the Soviet Union”, and made dozens of tours abroad in the 1960s and 1970s, before embracing a political career. Member of the State Duma since 2011, she sits in the ranks of the United Russia party of Vladimir Putin, and remains a symbol of pride in her country: she was one of the flag bearers at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Sochi (2014).

But here, after the pioneer Valentina Tereshkova, outer space has seen only men for nearly two decades. It was not until 1982 and Svetlana Savitskaya, a Soviet cosmonaut, to see a woman join the stars again, aboard a Soyuz for eight days. During her second mission in 1984, the latter became the first to make an extra-vehicular trip, nineteen years after the first man, cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, who only recently passed away.

First American woman in 1983, first French woman in 1996

In 1983, she was closely followed by the third woman and first American woman in outer space: Sally Ride. A physics graduate and astrophysics researcher, she was among the eight thousand NASA astronaut candidates selected in 1977. This was the first time that the agency had opened its recruitment to women: out of the thirty-five astronauts selected, six were women. On June 18, 1983, she became the first American woman in outer space as a crew member on Space Shuttle Challenger for STS-7. Many of the people attending the launch wore T-shirts bearing the words “Ride, Sally Ride”, lyrics from Wilson Pickett’s song “Mustang Sally”. Her flight came twenty-one years after that of the first American astronaut, John Glenn.

So the United States of America was not a forerunner, and yet… By 1959, Dr. William R. Lovelace, NASA’s Life Science Officer, had tested the ability of women to perform spaceflight: these tests revealed, among thirteen successful candidates, that they completely fulfilled the physical and physiological conditions to follow the same workouts as their male colleagues. It has been known for a long time that women resist better and longer than men to suffering, heat, cold, monotony, or solitude.

Jerrie Cobb, an American woman aviator part of the “Mercury 13”, was an astronaut candidate at the end of the 1950s. But the idea was abandoned by NASA officials in the summer of 1961: spaceflight being finally considered as the domain reserved for the fighter pilots, which do not count any woman. The Mercury project is seen as too Spartan, with a ballistic flight particularly violent, so the project is postponed, while the Soviets do not let go of the case. To date, the first cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova remains the only woman who has completed a solo flight in outer space.

In France, the first female astronaut was Claudie André-Deshays. Selected in 1985 by the European Space Agency (ESA), she flew twice: aboard the Mir station in 1996, and the ISS in 2001. Married to astronaut Jean-Pierre Haigneré in 2001 (of which she took the name), she held high responsibilities thereafter: French Minister of Research and European Affairs, Advisor to the Director of ESA, and President of Universcience, Parisian renowned science museums.

Few female candidates, few women in outer space

Of the one thousand candidates who ran for the 1985 selection, only ten percent of candidates were women. And today, on about almost six hundred astronauts who flew, there are only about sixty five women; it is still around ten percent. If we look at the selection conducted by ESA in 2008: there is always ten percent of women candidates. This has not changed between 1985 and 2008. This is a question that must be asked: why women have a representation of certain jobs that are accessible to them or not, it is something that we must work on”.

Historically, the jobs that have served as a breeding ground for astronauts have always been masculine. Moreover, the preparation to be an astronaut presupposes leaving home for a long time and it is sometimes difficult for a young woman to make this choice, when she wants to have children or a family life. We also see this kind of imbalance in other universes that impose the same constraints: on construction sites, on oil platforms…

If the U.S.S.R. was the first country to send a woman into outer space, this is also due to the nature of the Soviet regime, to a more directive mode of recruitment, especially with respect to the United States of America. But why such a late opening to the recruitment of women within NASA? Because the selection opened in 1977 was the first since the previous selections of the early 1960s (Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs), and in which in fact, no woman had ever been selected. But then, the situation has changed.

The first human on Mars could be a woman

So, is the woman the future of living beings in outer space? Yes, according to the plans of Donald Trump, who set 2024 as the return of an American on the Moon. Or rather an American woman: “It is likely that the next person on the Moon will be a woman, and the first person on Mars will probably also be a woman”. It was time. For today, the twelve astronauts who walked the lunar ground during the Apollo program, from 1969 to 1972, were all men. Today, things are different: of the thirty-eight American astronauts able to fly, twelve are women. And the latest promotions are even more equal: four women and four men selected in 2013, five women and seven men in 2017.

Continuing with women in outer space, in France, of the ten spationauts who have already flown, there is only one woman: Claudie Haigneré. The first Frenchman was Jean-Loup Chrétien, former fighter pilot and general, who flew in 1982 aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. In early 2019, an unfortunate story had, however, put the subject of gender equality back on the table, when a women’s spacewalk had to be cancelled. There was only one size combination ready for use aboard the ISS.

To be women in outer space, is it complicated? The French spationaut Philippe Perrin also explains that after two extravehicular exits, it is extremely misadvised to the female colleagues to have a child, it is usually too risky for the baby. Due to the solar radiations which damage the gametes. For those who wish to have a child, there is only “self-preservation of eggs”. In terms of intimacy, the ISS is totally mixed and adapted to both men and women, but still… To pee involves using a vacuum tube, as for menstruation, only the toilets of the Russian part of the ISS are adapted. To go to the Russians is to mean to all these gentlemen that a women has her period. To avoid worries, most women opt for the pill. One way to avoid getting pregnant in outer space, because it would then be necessary to embark on a repatriation Soyuz.

For the long trips that will be needed to go to Mars (up to two years), will women finally have an advantage over their male colleagues? Expected expeditions will require astronauts to spend a very long time in a cramped capsule, and therefore, in great promiscuity. According to some psychologists, a crew entirely composed of women would be best suited to such an adventure. Anguish, boredom, depression, loneliness, homesickness… Men and women suffer from the same psychological phenomena in distant expeditions, but everything suggests that the most suitable subjects are women. They tend to be more tolerant and in the crews, competition seems less fierce, and the atmosphere is less tense. Still, the presence of a woman in a group of men also has destabilising effects because of, among other things, sexual tension. A problem which may not be so important because astronauts suffer a significant drop in their production of sex hormones. This is what can be said concerning women in outer space.

Space legal issues concerning second-hand satellite market

One of the opportunity with on-orbit services would be the development related to the creation of a second-hand satellite market; for this new Space Law article, let us study the space legal issues concerning second-hand satellite market. Life-extended satellites represent enough value so they can be sold to new customers, to developing countries as an example. A second-hand market would represent additional potential customers for satellite maintenance.

ESA’s project of reusing GEO satellites

A few years ago, ESA engineers had proposed a technique to enable a digital satellite radio service for European drivers, without the need to launch a single new satellite into orbit. It promised to be much cheaper to set up than U.S. satellite radio, because it required no new expensive satellite launch. Instead, the proposal was to reuse existing TV satellites nearing the end of their operating life. Once in position, almost thirty-six thousand kilometres away in space, TV satellites will remain in orbit forever, but their useful life amounts to fifteen years or less. Onboard thrusters must keep each satellite pointed precisely in geostationary orbit so they stay lined up with fixed-position Earth-based receivers.

However, once the thrusters’ propellant runs out, the satellites drift out of correct orbit, and are left useless for TV broadcast applications. But further life can be squeezed from a low-propellant TV satellite switched over to mobile digital radio broadcasting, where precision position control is less important. Most thruster propellant is expended correcting satellite attitude in the north-south direction. But if station-keeping is limited to the east-west axis, then, satellite lifetime could be extended by some five years. The satellite’s position would oscillate across the sky by a few degrees. But vehicle-mounted digital radio antennas would keep track of the satellite as it moves, just as they would maintain contact with it as the car bearing the antenna moves across the landscape.

In-orbit transfer of ownership

Let’s focus on Satellite Ownership Transfers and the Liability of the Launching States. A space object may be sold/bought while in outer space. There is no objection by principle to a transfer of registration. The case we are studying is about the original State of registry entering into an agreement with the transferee state, such that the latter is grated jurisdiction over the transferred space object. The original State of registry would have to remove the space object from its national registry and for the transferee state to register the object on its own national registry. That is what happened with both the satellites AsiaSat 1 and 2. The two satellites were removed from the registry of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and registered on the national register of China (technically, it was not a transfer of ownership, but a State succession). The deregistration and reregistration of assets being transferred while in outer space simply included a list of administrative requirement for such transfers.

Let’s recall that the Article VIII of 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) 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”.

Article VI of the aforementioned Treaty enounces that “States Parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty. The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty. When activities are carried on in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, by an international organization, responsibility for compliance with this Treaty shall be borne both by the international organization and by the States Parties to the Treaty participating in such organization”.

A space object may be sold/bought while in outer space. There is no objection by principle to a transfer of registration. The property is transferred, including the rights and obligations which are connected to property in every legal system. The responsibility for “national activity” according to article VI of the 1967 OST is transferred because it is related to a fact: the link of nationality of the operator. This activity must be authorised and continuously supervised by the “appropriate State”. The liability of the launching State(s) is unchanged as it is related to the time of the launch. The State of the new owner can register and have jurisdiction and control over the object if it is a launching State because of article II of the 1976 Registration Convention (if it is not, it cannot).

Article II of the aforementioned Convention states that “1. 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.

2. Where there are two or more launching States in respect of any such space object, they shall jointly determine which one of them shall register the object in accordance with paragraph 1 of this article, bearing in mind the provisions of article VIII of the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, and without prejudice to appropriate agreements concluded or to be concluded among the launching States on jurisdiction and control over the space object and over any personnel thereof.

3. The contents of each registry and the conditions under which it is maintained shall be determined by the State of registry concerned”.

Transfer of ownership of a satellite does not affect the liability regime. Let’s remember that Responsibility concerns national activities whereas Liability concerns the launching State(s), which are “jointly and severely liable”. In this case, Ownership will not have any impact on the Liability. The identification of the launching States is the key to solve the questions of liability in respect of the on-obit transfer of ownership of a satellite However, scope of the launching States is not clear. What about if a state whose national owns a satellite launched from outside its territory shall be regarded as a launching State? Or if a state of registry not concerned with the actual launching shall be regarded as a launching State?

The “original” launching State stays liable even if it cannot in practice have any control over the satellite. Therefore it must control or even block every change of ownership to a foreign person. The State of the “national activity” is responsible according to Article VI of the 1967 OST but cannot register it, cannot have jurisdiction and control over it even if it must authorise and supervise this activity.

While registration is irrelevant to the liability, it is useful to find a launching State especially when the procuring State specifies its name as that of a launching State. However, considering State practice, making a formula of finding a launching State based on the registration would not be a solution. Then, it has to be noted that it is the assured protection of potential victims, not the identification of a launching State itself that counts. Taking note of that prerequisite, it has to be underlined that furnishing information to the UNSG is as useful as registration as far as the identifying the situation concerning a satellite is concerned.

Concluding remarks concerning second-hand satellite market

Helped by the various kinds of information provided, Governments can ensure that its national will assume third party liability through national legislation in line with the U.N. Treaties on Outer Space as well as the 2004 Application of the concept of the “launching State” and the 2007 Recommendation on enhancing registering space objects. Information provision concerning the multilateral transaction and national legislation will be the solution with respect to the on-orbit transfer of a satellite. This is what can be said concerning space legal issues concerning second-hand satellite market.

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.


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.


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…


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).


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.