Mathilde Minet

The Mars One Project

In 2011, the Mars One project was launched. Founded by the Dutch engineer Bas Lansdorp, its ambition is to establish a permanent human colony on Mars by the early 2030s using existing techniques and components. One of the founder’s promises is to carry out the mission for six billion dollars. Quite intriguing isn’t it ? 

Although a mission to Mars has fallen somewhat into the background, Mars has always been an irresistible attraction. The red planet seems to us to be both within reach and at the same time out of reach. Within reach because there seems to be a new breath animating the conquest of space. Out of reach because there is still a significant amount of technological and human challenges to overcome

The Mars One project 

One of the features of this plan is the selection of future astronauts from civil society. Basically, anyone over 18 and in good health can participate in the selection process. This is why more than 200 000 candidates applied between 2013 and 2015. Of course the candidates had to pass numerous aptitude tests afterwards, both physical and mental. Such a mission is not without its share of mental difficulties and the organizers had to carefully choose the people who would be best suited to lead a human mission to Mars. Hence Mars One established five key characteristics an astronaut must have: resiliency, adaptability, curiosity, ability to trust and creativity. Those are of course general criteria and there are many qualifications to meet.

The training of the Mars One’s selected candidates should have started in 2017. A major part of the training, as organized by the project, consists of training the future astronauts to endure the best possible the long period of time they will have to face and during which they would only remain among themselves, with no one else to rely on. Consequently they’ll be sequestered in a remote location, in a place resembling Martian landscapes, and learning to repair components of the habitat and the order, training to perform medical procedures and learning to grow food. 

There are many challenges to overcome before seeing a man for the first time on Mars. The mission roadmap extends over fifteen years and includes several preliminary stage before the launch of the astronauts. It includes the launch of communications satellite in 2024, the launch of a rover and a second communications satellite in 2026, the launch of six cargo missions in 2029, all of this to arrive at the launch of the first human crew bound for Mars in 2031.

Mars One’s funding model is based on four main poles : donations, intellectual property rights on the hardware created by Mars One’s suppliers, merchandise and broadcasting rights. However, the main source of funding will mainly be the broadcasting of a permanent reality TV program. The progress of the crew’s training and then the mission to Mars will be shared and broadcast via a documentary series and via the internet.

An interesting point of the project is its estimated low cost : the estimation to bring the first four people to Mars is no more than six billion dollars. In comparison studies that have calculated the cost of sending men to Mars estimated it at around 200 billion. 

How to explain such a low cost ? According to Mars One, one of the reasons missions to Mars are so expensive, if it were to be organized by NASA for exemple, is because they include the cost of returning to Earth. And precisely one of the main characteristics of this project is that it is a one-way ticket to Mars. Thus the weight of the material, provisions and fuel to be sent will be significantly lower, especially since the future colonists will have to be autonomous. For instance, they’ll have to grow their own food. The purpose of the colony is to establish a self-sufficient base on Mars. 

Why the project has failed 

However this project is too ambitious for such a short period of time. The project that received wide media coverage. Indeed someone launching a detailed program to go to Mars, funded by a reality TV program, does not happen very often. Yet it quickly lost its credibility when we started to take a closer look at it due to two major issues. 

First : technical reasons. A trip to Mars, and even more when it aims to establish a human colony there, requires the use of several technologies, some of which are not yet mastered. For instance, we do not yet have an operational technique for landing a ship over one ton. In comparison, the empty weight of Space X’s Dragon capsule is 4.2 tons. However, a trip of such magnitude necessarily requires a more comfortable vessel than a capsule in order to support the duration of the trip, requires a quantity of provisions and equipment, etc. Several techniques are under study but none has really reached maturity yet. Another example is the production of fuel and oxygen on site to avoid having to bring everything. These production systems are still only at the experimental stage. We see the same problem with the autonomous on site food production systems.


Then we have the human reasons. The psychological impact that space travel has had on astronauts is not without significance. It has been shown that astronauts, who have been trained for this purpose for years and who have already made flights, were mentally and physically affected by these long journeys. It can be argued without a doubt that the Mars One project will cause a trying psychological situation that has never been experienced before. Indeed, communications with Earth will not be instantaneous, astronauts will quickly no longer have visuals on Earth, they will no longer be able to depend on Earth and no repatriation will be possible. The stress generated will be enormous, especially since no return to Earth is planned.

On top of that we do not know the long-term effects of a prolonged trip outside the protective atmosphere of the Earth, especially in terms of radiation for example. 

Five students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology made a serious report on the Mars One project and came to the conclusion that the astronauts would die 68 days after the landing. Not really optimistic. 

The project launched by Bas Lansdorp seems to be currently at a standstill, mainly due to a lack of funding. Indeed the start-up had been divided into two companies : Mars One Foundation, which is non profit and Mars One Ventures, which for profit. The latter was bought in 2016 by Swiss financiers, InFin Innovative Finance AG, but unfortunately it went bankrupt. 

Unless the project receives sufficient funding, it seems to end for good. However, the project of a mission to Mars seems to be the goal of several projects and it is reasonable to expect such a mission within a few decades.

The Failure of the Launch of the French Taranis Satellite

On the night of November 16-17, 2020, the French Taranis satellite, conceptualised by the French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission (CEA) and the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), took off from the Guyana Space Center in Kourou, aboard the European Vega rocket, in order to study, for a duration of 2 to 4 years in orbit, the transitory light phenomena caused by storms. Unfortunately, this mission ended in failure, since the satellite was lost only 8 minutes after its launch.

This study would have been a spectacular breakthrough in the field, since these light phenomena are still a mystery today. Indeed, transient light phenomena had been studied for the first time in 1994 by the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory, the observatory of celestial sources of X-rays and gamma rays embarked on the American shuttle Atlantis. Other complementary studies had been made thereafter, in particular within the Italian space laboratory Clay in 2007 and with the American space telescope Fermi in 2008, but none of these studies had made it possible to completely confirm the current assumptions on the mechanism which generated the transitory luminous phenomena, nor their number and the Taranis satellite was precisely to bring additional information on their appearances, their mechanism and their radiative impact.

A commission of inquiry was opened following this incident by Arianespace and the European Space Agency, in order to understand the origins of this mission’s failure. According to initial analyses, the destruction of the satellite was caused by an anomaly encountered on the Vega rocket that deviated its trajectory. It is 15 years of design and work on this satellite that were thus destroyed.

This failure, unfortunately, is not the only launch failure in the space world since the creation of the conquest of space. Space accidents are numerous and can sometimes lead to the death of astronauts when they are sent on a space mission. These accidents then lead to legal questions, not only in terms of space environmental law, since space accidents result in a lot of space debris that is dangerous for human security, but also on the question of who is responsible for space accidents.

The failures of the European launcher Arianespace’s space missions in the history of the conquest of space since the launch of Ariane 1

The Ariane 1 rocket took off for the first time on December 24, 1979. In 1973, after the repeated failures of the Europa rocket, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Ariane program to ensure Europe’s access to space independently of the United States and Russia. The prime contractor is entrusted to France through CNES, and the first rocket will carry out 11 launches (including two failures) between 1979 and 1986.

The first launch failure took place on May 23, 1980 during the second launch attempt of the Ariane 1 rocket. The launcher explodes at the time of takeoff. On September 9, 1982, another Ariane 1 rocket stopped a few minutes after takeoff and grounded in the Atlantic Ocean.

The second failure takes place in 1985, at the time of the launch of the Ariane 3 rocket, one year after its first launch. Then, in the 1990s, Arianespace considerably accelerated the pace of its missions with the development of the telecommunications sector. More powerful than its predecessors, Ariane 4 successfully completed its first launch on June 15, 1988. Until 2003, the rocket carried out 116 missions, including three failures, to put more than 180 satellites into orbit. It triples the capacity of Ariane 3 by being able to carry payloads ranging from 2,000 to 4,800 kilograms.

Finally, on June 4, 1996, the first launch of the Ariane 5 rocket took place, which ended in failure. During its first launch, the rocket deviated from its trajectory and had to be self-destructed by Arianespace teams. The rocket’s debris fell as rain in the Guyanese jungle, and the police had to evacuate certain areas because of the risk of toxic gas. The second launch on October 30, 1997 ended in partial failure. It was not until October 21, 1998 with the V-112/503 mission that the first success of Ariane 5 was observed. With 106 launches between 1995 and 2019, Ariane 5 experienced a second failure on December 11, 2002, for the inaugural flight of the Ariane 5 ECA version. The shuttle exploded and losses were estimated at 640 million euros in a difficult period for the large satellite market. Mission failures are therefore frequent risks associated with this activity, which is why international law has provided a framework for this activity.

The Legal Regime Applicable to Liability for Damages Related to Space Activities

Many damages can occur as a result of space activities. To regulate this, there is a regime applicable to liability for damage caused by space objects.

Thus, what would have been the liability regime if the Taranis satellite, when it exploded in airspace, had caused damage to third parties ?

To answer this question, reference should be made to the 1972 International Treaty on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects. It follows from this regime that States, considered as launching States under the Treaties (the 1967 Space Treaty laying the common ground for all the general principles of space law), bear an obligation to register space objects, as well as liability. First of all, launching States have an obligation to register space objects in order to determine the nature and origin of an object launched into space, but also to know which State will bear the international responsibility attached to this space object. In the absence of registration, the launching State will not be able to benefit from the provisions of space law and general public international law will have to be applied. As far as liability is concerned, it has a double meaning. First, there is liability for damage caused to third parties as a result of a space operation. This liability is qualified as absolute as soon as damage is caused on earth or in the airspace, the victim is thus exempted from proving the fault of the launching State, it will be up to him to prove that he has suffered damage caused by a space object. The objective here is to facilitate recourse by victims against a launching State.

On the other hand, what would happen if the Taranis satellite was actually in orbit in outer space, and had collided with another satellite ?

In this case, the 1972 treaty provides that the liability is “for fault” as soon as the damage occurs in outer space. This is explained by the fact that here, the damage is caused to another launching State under the Treaties. It would therefore have been necessary for the State injured by the collision to prove fault on the part of the French space agency in order to engage the liability of France for the damage caused by the collision of the Taranis. Of course, this regime applies as long as the victim of the damage is a State, but what if the Taranis satellite had been sent by a private company ? Indeed, the 1970s and especially the 1980s saw the rise of private and commercial space activities, in particular through the creation of private launch companies that made it possible to offer launch services to private companies operating commercial satellites.

As a result, space law had to adapt to these new purely private activities. The United States was the first State to adopt legislation dedicated to space activities carried out by private entities under the application of US law (US Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984, amended several times). Other states, such as Great Britain (Outer-Space Act of 1986), quickly followed the United States. It was not until 2008 that France adopted legislation specific to space activities with the adoption of the Space Operations Act of 3 June 2008, number 2008-518.

These national legislations have different scopes of application, but have in common the fact that the activities of private entities falling under the application of these laws are regulated by means of authorization or licensing regimes. Indeed, States bear international responsibility under the international treaties for space activities carried out by private national entities, and it is therefore imperative that they authorize, control and monitor private or commercial space activities. States will subsequently be able to bring a recourse action against the private company.

In any event, despite the failure of the Taranis mission and the risks that space activities can represent, the players involved in the Taranis project are already thinking about the next launch: “We will correct and come back stronger“, said Arianespace’s CEO, who offered his “apologies” to the customers and builders of the lost satellite, while assuring that future launches operated by Arianespace would be maintained.

Jean-Louis Pinçon, in charge of scientific coordination of the project for the CNRS, also confirmed on Wednesday, November 18, 2020, the willingness to retry a new Taranis project: “We are already studying the possibility of a Taranis 2. The first feedback from CNES on this subject is very positive and we have started to think about what this will imply in terms of budget and human resources. But it is still too early to say that the reconstruction of Taranis is a given“.

This article was written by Diana DA SILVA (Paris-Saclay).

Understanding the United States Space Force Lunar Patrols

In 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump declared his intention to develop a U.S. space force. Supervised by Chief of Staff Joseph Dunford, it would then become the sixth independent branch of the United States military. Thus, on December 20, 2019, the United States Space Force (USSF) was created to conduct military operations in space to protect U.S. assets and interests. To operate, the USSF relies on the space assets of the United States Air Force, namely government satellites and two Boeing X-37 shuttles, which for several years now have been operating secret, unmanned missions in orbit. In other words, at present, the USSF does not send any military personnel into space, but this could change.

Indeed, the debate over the possibility of sending military patrol vessels into space to protect U.S. interests has been open since the official speech of Major General John Shaw, Chief of the Space Operations Command of the Space Force, on September 29, 2020. He said, “At some point, yes, we will put humans in space. They will then be able to operate command centers somewhere in the lunar environment or elsewhere“. These words were later qualified in early October by Lieutenant General David D. Thompson, U.S. Deputy Commander of the U.S. Space Force, to reassure international partners and the public who accused the USSF of hiding certain military activities: “the construction of a military base on the Moon was not on the agenda, especially because the robots are doing a very good job at the moment“.

Military space patrol vessels are therefore being considered by the USSF, but this will not be in the near future. Lieutenant David D. Thompson speaks of a decade before lunar patrol ships can be deployed. This project echoes a doctrine that appeared in August saying that the service must prepare for a future when the moon and the volume of space around it could become the next military frontier.

But what are the U.S. Space Force’s expected goals in sending lunar patrol ships?

As the head of the U.S. Space Force, General John Raymond, reminds us, “we want to help prevent conflicts in space, not trigger them“. But while today’s military space activities extend no further than satellites in geostationary orbit, tomorrow’s commercial space activity and future U.S. capabilities have the potential to extend the reach of U.S. interests to the Moon and beyond in the longer term. “It will therefore be the responsibility of the U.S. Space Force to ensure the security of our interests wherever they are in space“, and if they “extend beyond geostationary orbit, then we will deploy beyond that as well“. As David D. Thompson said in a DefenceOne web conference, “we must prepare for the possibility of increased human activity on the Moon and its colonisation, which may require a military presence“. To do this, it will be necessary for the U.S. Space Force to prepare patrol vessels to understand the environment and to have space awareness capabilities to be able to carry out the assigned missions, which will necessarily take time.

In order to effectively prepare for this mission, NASA, in collaboration with the U.S. Space Force, is soliciting the help of private companies that invest in space projects. Indeed, American commercial companies are developing deep space technologies previously exclusively reserved for governments, ranging from space communications to navigation to lunar landing systems. Space awareness technologies are a fundamental component of the infrastructure needed to support a cislunar economy, and are critical to the successful completion of space missions. For example, the Space Vehicle Directorate is planning to hold a conference for interested contractors during 2021 at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico (if the health crisis allows them to maintain this conference).

NASA and the U.S. Space Force have also partnered in a broad agreement that will eventually allow the U.S. Space Force to conduct human spaceflight, provide space transportation and space security expertise to U.S. interests, as well as scientific research and planetary defense, according to a recent NASA statement. NASA explicitly wanted to sign such an agreement in order to be able to protect space projects currently underway on the Moon, such as Project Artemis, which plans to send astronauts to the Moon and build sustainable lunar infrastructure, so that it can conquer Mars in the coming years. NASA does not hide the fact that the viable and sustainable exploration of the Moon and Mars is based on the use of natural resources. Thus, the U.S. Space Force, which is dedicated to protecting American interests in space, both in terms of space infrastructure and low-orbit activities, will be required to ensure the security of Americans and the economy on the Moon.

Indeed, the threats and risks to which the first lunar explorers will be exposed will be essentially related to traffic management, meteorological (radiation, solar activity) and meteorite (fall, collision) surveillance, as well as communication security (cuts, jamming). These are dangerous activities where the protection of lunar patrol boats will be necessary. That said, in the longer term, if diplomatic relations between the United States, Russia and China do not improve, nothing can legally prevent Chinese or Russians from disembarking within a short distance of the Artemis Base Camp. And even less from exploiting the same deposit of a lunar resource: this is also why lunar patrol boats are greatly considered by the United States of America.

This article was written by Diana DA SILVA (Paris-Saclay).

Understanding the ENMOD Convention

The ENMOD Convention or Convention on the prohibition of military or any hostile use of environmental modification techniques is an international treaty whose objective is to prohibit such techniques for military or hostile purposes. This Convention was adopted by resolution 31/72 of 10 December 1976 by the UN General Assembly. It was signed on 18 May 1977 in Geneva and entered into force on 5 October 1978. It contains ten articles and an annex relating to the Advisory Committee of Experts. To date, the Convention has seventy-six signatory States.

The ENMOD Convention has its origins in military techniques that were used during the Vietnam War. In 1962, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, then President of the United States, ordered his army to spread the so-called “agent orange” over forests in northern Vietnam. The agent, which turned out to be a highly toxic herbicide, was intended to destroy the forest in order to leave the Vietnamese maquisards without natural shelter. In addition, the U.S. military had also experimented with cloud-like experiments to artificially prolong the monsoon season. The natural environment was then modified here in order to be used as a weapon against Vietnam. Nevertheless, it is easy to understand that the use of such techniques can quickly become uncontrollable and can be dramatic from both an environmental and human point of view as they appear to be severely toxic.

Article 1 of the ENMOD Convention provides that each state party undertake “not to engage in military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects as the means destruction, damage or injury to any other State Party” and “not to assist, encourage or induce any State, group of States or international organization to engage in activities contrary to the provisions of paragraph 1 of this article“. Three cumulative conditions emerge from this first Article: a State must use techniques, for hostile purposes, to cause destruction or damage prejudicial to another State Party. Article 4 of this Convention establishes a principle of prevention for States by stating that “Each State Party to this Convention undertakes to take any measures it considers necessary in accordance with its constitutional processes to prohibit and prevent any activity in violation of the provisions of the Convention anywhere under its jurisdiction or control“. Finally, Article 5 provides that “the States Parties to this Convention undertake to consult one another and to cooperate in solving any problems which may arise in relation to the objectives of, or in the application of the provisions of, the Convention“.

There are therefore means of verification and recourse, but these are essentially based on cooperation between States. A State party which suspects another State Party of violating the ENMOD Convention could therefore file a complaint with the United Nations Security Council: “any State Party to this Convention which has reason to believe that any other State Party is acting in breach of obligations deriving from the provisions of the Convention may lodge a complaint with the Security Council of the United Nations. Such a complaint  should include all relevant information as well as all possible evidence supporting its validity“. Nevertheless, despite this idea of a complaint to the Security Council, which seems to be a good solution, one may question its application in practice, notably because of the vetoes that certain powerful States could pose against investigations in order to protect themselves. For example, the United States or Russia are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and could therefore take advantage of their important positions to hide their practices.

Despite the innovative and interesting idea of such a Convention, some shortcomings can be highlighted both in its application and in its effectiveness. Firstly, the very terms of the Convention in its first article, which requires a hostile use of these modification techniques. In contrast to this Article, Article 3 provides that such techniques may be used for peaceful purposes if their purpose is to protect and improve the environment for the benefit of present and future generations. However, allowing modification for peaceful purposes could be problematic. It is not illusory to think of the abuses that such authorization could lead to. Indeed, some States might try to circumvent the prohibition on hostile use by trying to pass off these techniques as hidden hostile use. There is a de facto risk of abuse. Some States have therefore chosen to make a reservation to article 3 in order to protect their territory.

The second condition concerning the damage caused to another State Party may be criticised. The damage must indeed occur between two States that have ratified the ENMOD Convention. The scope of the ENMOD Convention is therefore largely reduced to the only States that have ratified it, and environmental protection is therefore not fully covered by it as a State that has not ratified it may use such amending techniques. Moreover, it is required that the modification is a deliberate manipulation of the state, although this deliberate manipulation must be proven. A State could attempt to defend itself by claiming that it was an accident.

As regards the purpose of modification techniques, they must have “extensive, lasting and serious effects“, however these terms are imprecise. An interpretative protocol (Additional Protocol I of Geneva in 1977) was therefore put in place in order to better define these terms, even if today, despite these protocols, they remain imprecise. According to the protocol, it should therefore be understood that an extended effect is one that extends over a large area, i.e. several hundred square kilometers. Concerning the durability of the effects, they should be understood as lasting several months.

Finally, a serious effect would be one that causes a strong disturbance, or serious damage to the populations, the natural resources of the targeted state or its economy and wealth. In spite of these clarifications, the purpose remains quite broad and can therefore be broadly interpreted by States. Finally, another problem of interpretation of the terms of the said ENMOD Convention has arisen concerning the definition of “environmental modification technique“, which is to be found in Article 2: “For the purposes of Article 1, the term ‘environmental modification techniques’ means any technique designed to modify – through the deliberate manipulation of natural processes – the dynamics, composition or structure of the Earth, including its biota, lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, or outer space“.

By this definition, the ENMOD Convention does not apply to changes in the environment indirectly, incidentally or incidentally produced by means of conventional warfare or by weapons of mass destruction, or by weapons or means of warfare which do not have as their primary objective the modification of the environment through the deliberate manipulation of natural processes. Moreover, as these protocols are not incorporated into the Convention, it is not legally binding. They are only intended to clarify the interpretation of certain terms. For example, these protocols have provided examples of effects occurring such as a Tsunami, disruption of the ecological balance of a region, ocean currents etc. This raises the question of what is meant by environmental modification techniques. On this subject, the Italian delegation wished to broaden the scope of the text by adding after “any technique whose purpose is to modify“, the terms to influence or affect. The question had been raised as to whether blowing up a dam could be considered as an activity modifying the hydrosphere.

To conclude, modification techniques should have been defined more precisely in order to be more comprehensive and therefore more applicable in practice. For example, Georges Fischer, in his book “Annuaire Français de Droit International“, in which he comments on the said Convention, had proposed as a definition “any deliberate manipulation of natural processes with the aim of modifying or affecting them”, a definition which makes possible to encompass a greater number of situations and which is simpler to interpret.

As far as France is concerned, it is one of the few European Union states that have not signed the ENMOD Convention. France refused to sign this Convention which did not correspond at the time to its disarmament policy which was rather defensive under the Fifth Republic. Even today, it is still not a State party to the Convention. Indeed, it criticises the imprecise and therefore uncertain application of the articles.

Ultimately, in view of the ENMOD Convention’s lacunae, it must be said that the ENMOD Convention has not had the desired effect in its application by its State parties, since it does not have real binding force and remains highly imprecise in these terms.

This article was written by Cloé DANIEL, Mikhael TORRES, Yannis KHENNANE, Léa DETURCHE, M’hamed BENNOUNA and Jean-Pierre MENDY (Paris-Saclay).

NEAR Shoemaker: The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous Space Probe

The NEAR Shoemaker

Let us have a look at the NEAR Shoemaker. “Deep down, the only idol, the only God that I respect is time, it is obvious that I can only do myself pleasure or profound harm in relation to him. I knew that this poplar would last longer than I did, that this hay, on the other hand, would have wilted before me; I knew that I was expected at home and also that I could easily have stayed under this tree for an hour. I knew that any haste on my part would be as foolish as any slowness. And this for life“.

The obstacle time, the slow time, its rejection as well as its appreciation, but also, more often, the neutrality, undergone or accepted, with regard to him, recurring themes in the work of Françoise Sagan could not, any better, summarize the existence of Eugene Merle Shoemaker whose time of existence, certainly undergone in this case, has, amusingly or dramatically according to the spirits, employed itself to recall the link, coarse, which it maintained, with the surprise, the disappointment of the surprise.

Deceased at the age of sixty-nine, at the beginning of the Indian summer of his life according to Edwin Shneidamn, following a car accident during a trip in search of asteroid impacts in Australia, “Gene” Shoemaker is, in the collective imagination, mainly known to be the only “being” to have had the privilege of resting on the Moon after his death, the ashes of his remains having been sent in 1999, as a tribute, by wish of NASA and his descendants.

A gifted spirit turned astrophysicist and engineering geologist, Dr. Shoemaker contributed during his lifetime to the creation of the field of “astrogeology” by establishing the Astrogeology Research Program at the U.S. Institute of Geological Surveys in 1961, of which he was the first director. In particular, he was strongly involved in the “Ranger” missions to the Moon, which ended up revealing that the Moon was covered with impact craters of various sizes.

The co-discovery, in 1933, of the comet bearing its name “Shoemaker-Levy 9”, as well as the followup of the latter, completed the “highlighting” enterprise, to all and sundry, started in the previous years.

It’s on the strength of this record of service that he joined the “Discovery” program, launched in 1992 by NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin. This program was launched to enable “more frequent, cheaper, efficient” space missions with a spectrum of “skills” extending from robotic exploration of the solar system to the identification of exoplanets, using the now famous Kepler telescope.

The robotic exploration of the solar system, a prerogative of the “Discovery” program, as stated earlier, notably revolved, among many other missions, around the study of asteroids. The interests in the study of asteroids, formerly known as “sky’s vermin” are – both scientifically and economically – considerable. Thus, in astronomy, as Patrick Michel, a French astrophysicist and director of research at the CNRS, reminds us in an interview with Le Monde, “The study of asteroids gives the recipe for the formation of planets”.

Indeed, asteroids have the advantage – unlike the materials that formed the planets – of not having been heated, or only slightly, and therefore not having been chemically transformed, thus keeping the memory of the initial composition of the solar system. It is also thanks to elements found in meteorites, which are asteroids that fell to Earth, that we have been able to date the Solar System to 4.567 billion years ago.

In addition, they could, in the future, enlighten us on the origin of life. Indeed, it is envisaged, by the scientific community, that asteroids may have brought back the necessary ingredients – water and organic matter – for the creation of life. Antonella Barucci, an Italian astronomer, explained in an interview with Le Point that: “carbonaceous chondrite-type meteorites – found on Earth and originating mostly from asteroids – have exactly the same deuterium/hydrogen ratio as the water in our oceans and rivers”.

In a more pragmatic lens, studying asteroids could also allow us to improve the means of “planetary defense”. Indeed, many asteroids have an orbit that brings them dangerously close to the planet Earth. If it seems complicated to systematically destroy them, studying them could allow us, however, to learn how to deflect them. Patrick Michel explained, again, that “if the fall of an asteroid is the least likely natural disaster, it is also the only one that can be predicted and avoided… if we give ourselves the means”.

Moreover, from an economic point of view, it is estimated that one cubic kilometer of type M asteroid, i.e. metallic, contains seven billion tons of iron, one billion tons of nickel, and enough cobalt to satisfy world consumption for three thousand years. Finally, in a distant future, the latter could constitute space bases – self-sufficient due to the presence of mining resources – within the solar system. Moreover, thanks to their low mass and thus their low gravity, the energy spent to leave them would be much less consequent. Now that the time to dive deeper in the mission itself has arrived, let’s take a, quick, moment to have a look at the asteroid constituting its core.

The EROS asteroid, whose exploration was the core of the Near Shoemaker mission, was known to be at the time, the second largest known asteroid representing roughly the size of the Caribbean Island country of Barbados. This asteroid, whose first terrestrial approach was recorded in 1931, is also known to have been the first asteroid to have its shape visually determined and was notably at the heart of a pioneering legal action in this matter. Indeed, eleven months before the landing of the Near Shoemaker probe on the asteroid Eros, Gregory Nemitz, CEO of Orbital Development, a company located in the town of Twin Falls, Idaho, attempted to assert his ownership of the “asteroid433 Eros” by taking legal action against NASA and the U.S. government. The legal action was seated on the recognized and affirmed common law principle of the validity of pre-possession recognition.

During an interview given to the SPACE.com website, Gregory Nemitz said regarding this legal action “Everybody knows that possession is nine-tenths of ownership”. Adding to it, in an attempt to shed some light about his actions, he declared in a meeting filled with School of Mines attendees “The primary purpose of the lawsuit was to get an official determination from the U.S. government about property rights in space. The secondary goal was to move forward the international conversation about that topic” Even if, in the end, the lawsuit resulted in a “motion to dismiss”, with both of the Federal Court and the Court of Appeal declining to consider the motion on the grounds of “lack of a cognisable legal theory”, it did end up allowing the asteroid Eros to go down in history as the first space feature for which recognition of possession was sought. To everyone’s surprise, the anchoring in history of the EROS asteroid would end up strengthened, again, thanks to a mission, which became NEAR, conceived in the mid-1980s.

The question that the NEAR mission, inaugurating the “Discovery” program set up by NASA, as mentioned above, proposed to resolve was based on the assumption that at the time of the launch of the project, no asteroid had yet been visited by a spacecraft. It is, with this in mind, that the NEAR probe, renamed “NEAR Shoemaker” in homage to the tragically deceased doctor, saw the light of day with the objective of measuring the general properties of the asteroid Eros as well as its surface and internal proportions.

This project with an initial titanic cost of six hundred and fifty millions of dollars, revised however downwards, two hundred and ten millions of dollars, to adhere to the low-cost policy of the “Discovery” project became, on February 14, 2000, the first project allowing a space object to enter the orbit of an asteroid. This entry, initially planned for January 1999, had however been delayed due to a problem inherent to one of the three maneuvers enabling it to catch up with its target and get closer to it (which notably caused a failure of the probe’s motor as well as a momentary loss of contact with the craft). Chance of fate, the failure, corrected, allowed the scientists in charge of the project to choose as a new date the 14 of February 2001, February 14 related to Valentine’s Day and chosen in reference to the asteroid, taking its name from the Greek god of love, Eros.

During a whole year spent in the orbit close to the asteroid (between five and fifty-six kilometres), “NEAR Shoemaker” allowed to elaborate databases, provided in innumerable fields, such as the mass of the object, its structure, its gravity, its magnetic field… Among the numerous discoveries made, some of them proved to be more fundamental than others, in particular the discovery that “the surface of Eros had both very smooth, flat areas and regions covered with large boulders. NEAR found that Eros, unlike the planets of the solar system, had not undergone extensive melting and differentiation into distinct layers”. To get to the end of this mission, the probe was equipped with “an X-ray/gamma ray spectrometer, a near infrared imaging spectrograph, a multi-spectral camera fitted with a CCD imaging detector, a laser rangefinder, and a magnetometer”, the total mass of the instruments being estimated to fifty-six kilograms and requiring a eighty-one watts power source to function normally. Moreover the NEAR tracking system also allowed a radio science experiment to be held, experiment used to estimate the gravity field of the asteroid.

It’s on the strength of these numerous observations, added to the encounter, 1212 km away, of the asteroid “Mathilde” on June 27, 1997, that the probe’s mission unofficially ended on February 12, 2001. Unofficially, indeed, because on this February 12 the probe survived a landing on the surface of EROS, a landing not foreseen in the initial plans. During this “extra mile” made by the probe, the latter allowed, even beyond the objectives of its mission, both to send photographs of objects as small as a centimetre during its descent and to allow the collection and sending of scientific data on the composition of the surface of the asteroid.

Closing its final chapter, on February 28, 2001, communication with the “NEAR Shoemaker” probe ended, although an unsuccessful attempt to re-establish contact took place on December 10, 2002, killing two birds with one stone by engraving the name, for eternity, of the asteroid and the deceased scientist in the scientific collections, and more importantly, in the collective imagination.

This article was written by Cloé DANIEL, Mikhael TORRES, Yannis KHENNANE, Léa DETURCHE, M’hamed BENNOUNA and Jean-Pierre MENDY (Paris-Saclay).

The Space Legal Issues with Mega-Constellations

With the advent of mega-constellations of satellites like Space-X’s Starlink, will we have to play Crossy Road in an orbital version before launching a spacecraft?” Nowadays, we hear more and more about constellations and mega-constellations projects consisting of hundreds or thousands of spacecraft. A satellite constellation is a group of artificial satellites working together. The satellites orbit in selected and synchronised orbits so that their respective ground coverage overlap and complement each other instead of interfering with each other.

Today, many businesses and other users, such as the general public, demand better and more efficient connections. To respond to them, more and more efficient communications technologies are developed and implemented. Today, several “mega-constellations” projects are being organized to connect the seven billion human beings inhabiting our “blue planet”.

Starlink is a project organized by SpaceX and which aims to provide high-speed internet access throughout the planet by mega-constellations. Currently, Internet access depends on satellites transmitting Internet via towers and cellular cables. However, these two options do not allow Internet access in some remote areas. Today only fifty-seven per cent of the world’s population has access to the Internet. Disparities are felt in some regions such as Central Africa where only twelve per cent of the population has access to the Internet. Elon Musk’s project would allow broadband internet access across the globe at an affordable cost thanks to several high-performance satellites placed in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) above five hundred anf fifty kilometres from Earth. This project of a mega-constellation would benefit a lot of people, but does the end always justify the means?

Starlink is not the only mega-constellation project. With the same goal, the startup OneWeb plans to send six hundred and fifty satellites to one thousand two hundred kilometers altitude by 2021 and therefore create a mega-constellation. However, the company OneWeb, declared bankruptcy at the end of March. Moreover, Jeff Bezos, talks about launching three thousand two hundred satellites between at an average altitude of six hundred kilometers. This mega-constellation is based on small satellites in LEO between three hundred and fifty and one thousand kilometers altitude. However, there are several concerns about mega-constellations such as the issue of orbit congestion and space debris.

THE ORBIT CONGESTION

In 1976, eight States traversed by Equator signed the Bogota Declaration in which they requested their rights over geostationary orbit as a natural resource that had been unfairly removed from their sovereignty. The Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) is the circular orbit located at a distance of 36.000 km above the Earth’s Equator. A satellite placed in this orbit always fixes the same point. The GEO satellites are used for TV, telecommunication services and other applications.

The Bogota Declaration is the evidence of the fear among developing countries that no space will be left for them to launch geostationary satellites in the future due to orbit congestion. Though, the Bogota Declaration did not receive wide international support nor recognition. Moreover, the Article 2 of the Outer Space Treaty provides that “outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means“. The geostationary orbit is in fact part of outer space and the 1967 Treaty therefore invalidates the sovereignty claims of the Bogota Declaration. Yet, Article 33 of the 1973 International Telecommunications Convention defines the geostationary satellite orbit as limited resources that may have equitable access.

Starlink planned to deploy about twelve thousand satellites by 2027 with the objective of sending a total of forty-two thousand satellites if the company obtains the authorization. To give an overview, in 2019 there were two thousand active satellites in orbit around the Earth and thirty-four thousand objects larger than ten centimetres in size. This monopoly of the orbit raises the question of the equitable use of this resource by these companies. Above all, however, mega-constellations raise the risk of orbital congestion, which could seriously hamper future space missions.

SPACE DEBRIS

The problem of congestion is directly related to the risk of a significant increase in Earth orbit debris. The increase in the number of objects in orbit necessarily increases the chances of collisions between aircraft. Concerning Starlink project, placing the satellite in LEO, will allow them to de-orbit in a few months thanks to their own propulsion system, whereas a traditional satellite placed more than one thousand kilometres from Earth takes one to five years to de-orbit. However, Starlink’s satellites or those of other mega constellation projects are likely to fail. It is estimated that already three per cent of Starlink’s satellites are out of service; these satellites are no longer manoeuvrable and are therefore likely to collide.

This risk is real and has already been observed. In September 2019, the European Space Agency had to perform evasive maneuvers on one of its satellites in order to avoid a collision with a mega-constellation of SpaceX. In this case, the device in question was in operation, but its anti-collision device was deactivated. Therefore, if nothing is done to prevent these risks, repeated collisions could occur, which could lead, in the extreme, to Kessler’s scenario: an exponential increase in debris and impact probabilities that would make space exploitation impossible.

The law is silent on the subject of space rights and mega-constellations. Jean-Yves le Gall, head of the French space agency and former president of the IAF, believes that mega-constellations would make it necessary to establish an international law on waste: “There are practically no examples of satellites that have had a problem because of debris. But this is beginning to become urgent because of the mega-constellation projects. SpaceX doesn’t do anything that breaks the rules, the problem is that there are no rules. There are air traffic controllers for airplanes, we’re going to come up with the same system for space“.

Without an international law to control behaviour, it is up to the States to legislate waste treatment. In this field, only France has a law requiring that all aircraft in low orbit be de-orbited within twenty-five years. For the rest, national agencies such as NASA have adopted non-binding rules for their own satellites. Thus, everything depends on the good conduct of operators. To date, a Space Safety Cooperation charter, signed by thirty-four players in the sector, including Airbus and OneWeb, aims to regulate the production of debris in orbit. Other directives, such as those of the Inter-agency Space Debris Coordination Committee, created in 1993 by NASA and the European, Russian and Japanese space agencies, issue non-binding recommendations, one of which is based on French law.

But like all environmental issues that present long-term challenges, simple rules of good conduct may not be enough to stem the spread of space debris; it would be enough for an operator not to respect them to spoil everything.

Several satellite recycling projects are underway. Space Advanced Concepts Laboratory is trying to set up a kind of autonomous garage in orbit that would house spaceships to diagnose the state of the satellites, to repair them but also to tow them for recycling. This project is expected to come to fruition within the next fifteen years or so. It would partly solve the problem of space debris and increase the lifespan of satellites. Another project proposed by the start-up Clear Space aims to send a satellite whose mission will be to capture space debris using four robotic arms.

However, these projects are not yet implemented and finding investors is very complicated since they will not bring benefit. The mega-constellation would be a great technological breakthrough for Internet access in particular, however the risk of congestion and an increase in space debris pose real problems.

This article was written by Corinne BAUDOIN, Laetitia PIETRI, Pierre-Yves VILLARD, Guillaume BRESSON, Bianca-Laetitia TOMASI, Élise DRILHON and Esther SENG GARCIA (Paris-Saclay).

Anousheh Ansari: The First Female Space Tourist

If you can dream it, you can do it“. In the mouth of someone other than Anousheh Ansari, this incantation might sound a little mawkish… But coming from the first female space tourist, from a successful serial entrepreneur who was featured in Fortune magazine’s “40 under 40“, from a visionary who wants to put technology at the service of a safer and more sustainable planet, these words take on their full meaning. Space tourism… a dream for many of us, but what else?

THE STRENGTH OF DREAMS

As a child, Anousheh Ansari used to look at the stars when life became too hard. Born in the 1960s in Iran into a modest family, she emigrated to the United States at the age of 16, without speaking the language. She invested herself fully in her studies, to the point of obtaining a master’s degree in electrical engineering from George Washington University. She has an honorary doctorate from the International Space University, and later earned a master’s degree in astronomy from Swinburne University.

Her first entrepreneurial experience was a success: she sold her company Telecom Technologies Inc. during the euphoria of the Internet bubble in January 2001. She was 34 years old. This success gave her the means to pursue her dreams: in 2006, she shared the life of astronauts in the International Space Station ISS for 10 days, becoming the first privately-funded space tourist. At the same time, she created the company Prodea Systems, which develops intelligent services thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT).

Convinced that there is no other solution for mankind than to exploit the resources of space, she cofinances the Ansari X Prize, endowed with $10 million each year, to encourage the private space industry. The XPrize Foundation, which she heads, promotes research and innovation by targeting problems “that governments and companies don’t address”. In biology, aerospace, agri-food, materials science, the circular economy… the foundation’s awards support the most innovative and disruptive projects.

Key dates

  • 1966: Born in Mechhed, Iran.
  • 1978-1979: Iranian Revolution.
  • 1984: Arrival in Washington D.C. in the United States.
  • 2000: Resale of the Telecom Technologies company, founded with her brother-in-law and her husband.
  • 2006: Departure for a ten-day flight to the International Space Station. 
  • 2018: Appointed CEO of the XPrize Foundation.

THE FIRST FEMALE SPACE TOURIST

On September 18, 2006, the space shuttle Atlantis took off from the Baikonour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. This was the start of Anousheh Ansari’s 10-day International Space Station (ISS) flight. Her participation in this trip, however, was only held by a thread. She was admitted to the Russian space program as a replacement for a Japanese cosmonaut.

Anousheh’s journey was full of adventures. Twenty-four hours after the launch she began to show symptoms of space flight: lower back pain, severe headaches and stomach aches. The onboard doctor immediately gave her injections. The process of docking at the station seemed very long but once inside and after taking off her suit, she felt much better and happy to be “home”.

On board the ISS, Anousheh Ansari participated in several scientific experiments for the European Space Agency (ESA), which aim to determine the effects of space travel on the human body. Blood samples were taken before and after his departure to determine the effects of cosmic radiation on the human body. She was tasked with taking bacteria samples from the International Space Station. The bacteria samples come from her body but also from objects on board the ISS. Anousheh Ansari was also tasked with taking photographs and working on an educational project. She wanted to share her experience through a blog from space.

During the journey, she was able to experience life in space with all its daily routine. On her blog she answered many questions from people following her trip, especially about hygiene in space: how do you take a shower and brush your teeth when the water doesn’t flow but floats? You have to improvise, she says, use wet towels and wash yourself with floating water: a great challenge ! Moreover, as water is a rare and precious resource in space, every drop of water in the air or used is filtered to provide water for the crew, who finally consider themselves as siblings because technically they drink each other’s recycled sweat.

She explains that the astronauts also had to do physical training every day in order to limit the effects of weightlessness on their muscles and bones, otherwise their muscles could atrophy from lack of use. The surprising thing is that without gravity the physical exercises are effortless. This can also be an advantage, because it is easy to lift objects weighing several tons without any effort and to throw all kinds of things to each other. Getting around was still quite difficult for Anousheh, though, as she had to move around in an environment comparable to water, which reminded her that she was just a rookie compared to the rest of the crew. Eventually, the journey also required sacrifices that can make longdistance travel difficult, from the effects of weightlessness on the astronauts’ bodies to the very strict diet on board. Indeed, each meal was made of canned food and dry or frozen vegetables.

The trip was not exactly restful. Every day the astronauts get up at the equivalent of 4 am to eat a meagre breakfast and participate in a meeting with the teams on earth, in order to plan the day: machine checks, medical checks… a whole process that makes the days dense and short. In the evening all the teams meet to take stock of what has been done and to plan the day ahead. After everyone has gathered for dinner, the astronauts go to bed at around 7:30 pm.

During this trip, Anousheh realized that the trip itself was more important than the destination. Although it was incredible and the goal of many years of training, dreaming, and a long journey, it will be impossible for her to forget the friendships she has made, the experiences, and the many things she has been able to learn during her training.

It was such an experience for her, that it brought many things in her life into question. A trip into space allowed her to take a step back and distance, she says. “When you return to Earth, you no longer perceive things in the same way, especially the world and the fragility of the planet. You really get a sense of the infinity that we represent in such a vast universe, and paradoxically, you feel like you are part of something bigger, a universe that seems so far away when you look at the stars from Earth“.

SPACE TOURISM: A REALITY SINCE 19 YEARS

Who has never looked up at the sky and the stars and asked “What is space like? What do we see from space? “Better still, since photographs can answer these questions: “How do we physically feel in space?”.

Some answers were given by specialists such as Neil Armstrong, Arnold Richard or Youri Artyukhin, who went into the cosmos to carry out explorations carried out in the framework of research and intended to advance the science of astronomy. But, they are no longer the only ones who can relate their experiences in space. Indeed, others had the chance to put on the cosmonaut costume, this time to make a dream come true. Such was the case, in 2001, of the millionaire Dennis Tito, the first “space tourist” to access this “tourist” trip after NASA’s agreement, obtained after heavy negotiations. In 2006, will follow Anousheh Ansari, fourth space tourist and first woman in the world to attempt the adventure described above.

For the moment, the financial cost of space travel means that this tourism is only reserved for a lucky few. Indeed, suborbital flight, the least expensive, still costs about 200,000 euros. As for the flight within the ISS, as Dennis Tito or Anousheh Ansari have experienced, it costs millions of dollars. But since her 10-day trip to the ISS, Anousheh Ansari has been investing in research, including co-funding the Ansari XPrize, thereby encouraging the space industry in the private sector. One of the objectives of this award is to make these flights more accessible and affordable to civilians, thus opening them up to wider commercialization.

Despite the hope for some to realize a dream, the “green light” given to this new type of space travel and the new ambitions revolving around it raise questions.

WHAT ABOUT “MASS SPACE TOURISM”?

The science of astronomy requires specialized, advanced knowledge, a unique and elitist education, and ultimately, on the scale of the world’s population, few have had the opportunity to observe the earth from very high up.

Of course, tourists need to follow a very advanced training, as was the case of Mrs. Ansari who followed an 8-month apprenticeship. On the other hand, there is no guarantee that no problems will occur during these stays.

A first issue comes into play: what about responsibility? The visitor is globally passive and must follow the instructions of the specialists and put into practice the lessons learned from the training followed beforehand. This seems to imply that the travel company would be bound by an obligation of result in terms of passenger safety and would therefore be solely responsible.

This is what Elon Musk, boss of SpaceX, who intends to send several tourists into space in partnership with Axiom Space, seemed to be saying. He declared: “if it goes right, it’s a credit to the SpaceX-NASA team. If it goes wrong, it’s my fault” on CBS. Let us note that NASA, at the beginning very reluctant at the idea of allowing pleasure trips, was actually afraid that the presence of a civilian on board the ISS would be a source of insecurity.

Another issue, Ms. Ansari, who works to promote and even facilitate tourist travel in space, has she considered the environmental impact of these trips? What will become of the debris caused by them? Moreover, the presence of tourists could limit the work of scientists, or at least force them to take these “intruders” into consideration each time they take action in space. The great space treaties, but also the law of commerce, would therefore also apply to this part of the universe, which until now has been invested almost exclusively in the name of science and research.

Some people are sounding the alarm, including the director of public affairs at the Cité de l’espace in Toulouse (France). He declared in 2019 that he did not believe in the “democratization” of space, notably because of its financial cost. He added that the professionals of the Cité de l’espace were firmly opposed to the development of this industry, pointing out that these leisure flights risked weighing heavily on the ecology. Is space, an area invested only by specialists, finally accessible to all? One thing is sure… space tourism will not soon be out of the spotlight, because SpaceX and other actors really intend to develop this activity.

To be continued…

This article was written by Corinne BAUDOIN, Laetitia PIETRI, Pierre-Yves VILLARD, Guillaume BRESSON, Bianca-Laetitia TOMASI, Élise DRILHON and Esther SENG GARCIA (Paris-Saclay).

Space Adventures: The First Private Space Company

On June 25, 2020, Space Adventures announced that it had signed a contract with Russia space corporation Energia to send two tourists in 2023 on board the same “Soyuz” spacecraft to the Russian segment of the International Space Station (ISS).

Visitors will stay at the ISS for fourteen days and have a chance to go on a space walk with a Russian professional astronaut, becoming the first private citizens in history to walk in space. Accepted participants will be required to complete professional training and additional simulations in preparation for the spacewalk. However, Space Adventures stated that the price of the spacewalk now is unknowable and it depends on the mission time and other factors. In addition, this space tourism company has developed a variety of programs still available today.

ABOUT SPACE ADVENTURES

Space Adventures, an American space travel company is the first private space company and the only company currently providing spaceflights services to private astronauts which include zero gravity flights, orbital space flight and the option to participate in a space walk. It was created in 1998 by Eric C.Anderson who is the president and CEO. The company is headquartered in Tysons Corner, Virginia with an office in Moscow.

Space Adventures has one objective: “to open spaceflight and the space frontier to private citizens” and devotes itself to developing exciting but safe space tourism activities for interested individuals, and are looking for new ways to settle more reliable, affordable and safe entree into space.

THE SPACEFLIGHT PROGRAMS OF SPACE ADVENTURES

From 2001 to 2009, Space Adventures has arranged seven clients on eight successful space travels with the help of the flight-proven Russian Soyuz rocket system to the ISS, human’s only outpost in space. Among them, American businessman Dennis Tito cost twenty million dollars to become the first space tourist and Charles Simonyi was the fifth space traveler who visited in space twice. In total, these seven clients spent over eighty days and went nearly thirty million miles (about 48.28 million kilometers) on the trip.

As a matter of fact, for each of these trips, the company must resort to the flight-proven Russian Soyuz rocket system and rent seats in its capsules. However, during 2011 to 2020, the US was incapable of launching American astronaut into space because of the retirement of the 7-person capacity Space Shuttle. Then in order to continue space exploration activities, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) drew up an agreement with the Russian space agency Roscosmos to buy in bulk seats on the Soyuz. And as a result, when the Soyuz spacecraft became the only way to enter the ISS, its seats was insufficient and unavailable to Space Adventures, so these space trips organized by Space Adventures later ended.

Space Adventures therefore has not stopped developing its space tourism activities for private person. In February 2019, it contracted with SpaceX to allow paying space tourists on SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft to participate in a short tour that could reach an altitude two-to-three times higher than the ISS as early as the end of 2021. In the same year, after NASA reached agreement with two commercial carriers which began its services in 2020, Spaceflight achieved with Russian Soyuz capsule to the ISS became possible once again, so recently, Space Adventures had purchased two of the available Soyuz seats for the next space tourism.

EXISTENTIAL LEGAL ISSUES

Today, several legal issues still surround Space Adventures’ spaceflight programs, including four aspects: definition of space tourism, state liability for space tourism, liability for damage caused by space activities on third parties, relations of rights and obligations between Space Adventures and its passenger.

To begin with, the issue of delimitation between airspace and outer space is important due to the governance of different legal regimes between Air Law and Space Law. Only when where airspace ends and outer space begins are determined, can space tourism be defined. Then its law applicable can be confirmed and issue involving liability of rights and obligations can be resolved. However, the delimitation of outer space has been yet debated since the 1950s.

The reason for the controversy between States is connected with their territorial sovereignty. Article I of the 1944 Chicago Convention guarantees every state’s complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory while Space Law emphasizes a total freedom of movement of States and prohibits any sovereignty over the celestial bodies. Although nowadays, the most viewpoints recognize an altitude of 100 to 110 kilometers as the dividing line between outer space and airspace, it is not accepted by all countries. In the United States, outer space begins at an altitude of eighty kilometers while the Bogota Declaration jointly published by eight equatorial countries stipulates that every state has sovereignty at an altitude 35,000 kilometers off the ground. Therefore, it is difficult to figure out the issue of delimitation between airspace and outer space.

Then, article VI of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty states a principle of state direct responsibility and that the international responsibility for national space activities shall be borne by the launching state regardless of whether it’s a private or public company. According to the 1972 Space Liability Convention, a launching country refer to any State that “launches or procures the launching of an object into outer space”, and any State “from whose territory or facility an object is launched”. This question is quite complicated. Space Adventures is an American company and its spaceflight launch site is usually in Russia.

For example, the spaceflight activities cause damage to other satellites and third parties who are French and Chinese, and result space debris or radioactive or chemical pollution. In fact, the launch of spaceship is for tourists and in other words, they belong to those who procure the launching of an object into outer space. According to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, individual tourists can’t bear international responsibilities, but in this situation, will the United States, Russia, France or China bear the responsibility? If the US and Russia are responsible, will France and China undertake joint liability? The existing international space law has not adjusted to such complex social relationships and it’s a challenge to us legal researchers.

Furthermore, the third parties generally refer to victims damaged by space tourism other than tourism organizers and tourists who are direct participants of this space tourism activity. For example, if a spaceflight launch fails, the wreckage of a rocket or spacecraft hits people or property on the ground. Generally speaking, the laws applicable to third party are different according to varying situations.

Space Adventures is an American company and its spaceflight launch site is in Russia, so there is little doubt that the US and the Russia should bear international responsibility to third parties. However, according to article VII of the 1972 Space Liability Convention, when third party is American and Russian, the Convention is inapplicable and the launching states’ domestic laws that are American law and Russian law should be applied. Unfortunately, there are very few countries in the world who clearly specifies the liability for damages caused by spaceflight activities to third parties and this is an almost blank area of law.

Finally, the relations of the rights and obligations established between Space Adventures and space tourists should be determined by the contract concluded by two parties according to the law. And in this situation, the 1972 Space Liability Convention is not applicable since the Convention just concerns damages to third parties and clearly states that it does not apply to space tourists. In fact, access to outer space is very specific points of passage due to its high risk and immature technology, for example, flaring capsules or the fuselage could probably occur.

Therefore, Space Adventures should be required to inform tourists of the risks. To prevent space travel organizers from unreasonably excluding their duties and also limit as much as possible unfair terms of the professional, the law should stipulate the basic content of such contracts. Although the American legislation in this field is more advanced than that of any other country’s, it tends to be more beneficial for the operators like Space Adventures. For example, a New Mexico’s law on “informed consent for spaceflight” and lack of medical requirements.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

A private citizen completing a spacewalk would be another huge step forward in private spaceflight” Eric Anderson, CEO of Space Adventures, said in a company statement. That is to say, Space Adventures’ programs, in especial those on a Russian Soyuz capsule to fly two tourists headed to the ISS in 2023 contribute to developing private space activity and then help explorer space. However, the legislation about space tourism is still premature, large number of legal vacancy and chaos still remain. In order to satisfy future space tourism activities, it is necessary to improve the space international law.

This article was written by Mariam CHERIF, Zineb EL AATIQI, Gassama Babacar FARY, Wu CUIYI and Ismail SOW (Paris-Saclay).

The Artemis Accords Explained

NASA Artemis Accords

On September, 13, 2020, NASA announced that eight countries – including the United States – have signed the Artemis Accords, an international agreement that establishes how countries can cooperate to peacefully and responsibly conduct exploration of the Moon. Artemis aims to land two astronauts near the lunar south pole in 2024 and to establish a sustainable human presence on and around the Moon by the end of the decade – bold goals that NASA aims to achieve with the help of international and private-sector partners.

The founding member nations that have signed the Artemis Accords, in alphabetical order, are:

  • Australia
  • Canada 
  • Italy 
  • Japan 
  • Luxembourg 
  • United Arab Emirates 
  • United Kingdom 
  • United States of America 

These signatories to the Artemis Accords affirm, among other things, that they will conduct all space activities peacefully and in accordance with international law; help protect space heritage, such as the Apollo landing sites; publicly release scientific data in a timely manner; render aid to astronauts who need it; and make their hardware and other systems “interoperable” to maximize cooperative use.

The Artemis Accords state that the use of space resources can benefit humanity. And NASA plans to exploit lunar resources extensively during the Artemis program, especially the water ice that seems to be plentiful on the permanently shadowed floors of lunar craters. This ice can not only provide life support for astronauts, it can also be split into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen, the chief components of rocket fuel, agency officials have stressed.

Such mining activities will be conducted in full compliance with the OST, the Artemis Accords stress (the OST prohibits any nation from claiming sovereignty over the Moon or any other celestial object. But it does seem to allow the extraction and sale of space resources, many space-law experts say. And the U.S. Congress passed a law in 2015 explicitly permitting American companies to mine and sell off-Earth resources).

Space law was created following the sending of the Earth’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, into outer space in 1957 by the U.S.S.R. This unprecedented advance instigated a movement of space race with a multiplication of research and space activities on the part of States. It was therefore necessary to provide a framework for these activities and it is the Space Treaty, an international treaty dating from October 10, 1967, which establishes the common basis for all the general concepts of space law. Other major international treaties have appeared in order to clarify some problems that space activities may generate, such as the treaty on the rescue of astronauts, the return of astronauts and the restitution of objects launched into outer space in 1968, or the treaty on international liability, which appeared on September 1, 1972, which frames the principle of the responsibility of States for damage related to space debris, the 1975 Registration Treaty, which aims to identify objects sent into space by States, and the Moon Treaty in 1979.

Therefore, all activities must be carried out for peaceful purposes in accordance with the principles of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. The principles of the Artemis Accords are:

  • Peaceful Uses 
  • Transparency 
  • Interoperability 
  • Emergency Assistance
  • Registration of Space Objects
  • Release of Scientific Data 
  • Protecting Heritage 
  • Space Resources 
  • Deconfliction of Activities
  • Orbital Debris 

PEACEFUL USES

International cooperation on Artemis is intended not only to bolster space exploration but to enhance peaceful relationships between nations. Therefore, at the core of the Artemis Accords is the requirement that all activities will be conducted for peaceful purposes, per the tenets of the Outer Space Treaty.

TRANSPARENCY

Transparency is a key principle for responsible civil space exploration and NASA has always taken care to publicly describe its policies and plans. Artemis Accords partner nations will be required to uphold this principle by publicly describing their own policies and plans in a transparent manner.

INTEROPERABILITY

Interoperability of systems is critical to ensure safe and robust space exploration. Therefore, the Artemis Accords call for partner nations to utilise open international standards, develop new standards when necessary, and strive to support interoperability to the greatest extent practical.

EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE

Providing emergency assistance to those in need is a cornerstone of any responsible civil space program. Therefore, the Artemis Accords reaffirm NASA’s and partner nations’ commitments to the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space. Additionally, under the Accords, NASA and partner nations commit to taking all reasonable steps possible to render assistance to astronauts in distress.

REGISTRATION OF SPACE OBJECTS

Registration is at the very core of creating a safe and sustainable environment in space to conduct public and private activities. Without proper registration, coordination to avoid harmful interference cannot take place. The Artemis Accords reinforces the critical nature of registration and urges any partner which isn’t already a member of the Registration Convention to join as soon as possible.

RELEASE OF SCIENTIFIC DATA

NASA has always been committed to the timely, full, and open sharing of scientific data. Artemis Accords partners will agree to follow NASA’s example, releasing their scientific data publicly to ensure that the entire world can benefit from the Artemis journey of exploration and discovery.

PROTECTING HERITAGE

Protecting historic sites and artifacts will be just as important in space as it is here on Earth. Therefore, under Artemis Accords agreements, NASA and partner nations will commit to the protection of sites and artifacts with historic value.

SPACE RESOURCES

The ability to extract and utilize resources on the Moon, Mars, and asteroids will be critical to support safe and sustainable space exploration and development. The Artemis Accords reinforce that space resource extraction and utilization can and will be conducted under the auspices of the Outer Space Treaty, with specific emphasis on Articles II, VI, and XI.

DECONFLICTION OF ACTIVITIES

Avoiding harmful interference is an important principle of the Outer Space Treaty which is implemented by the Artemis Accords. Specifically, via the Artemis Accords, NASA and partner nations will provide public information regarding the location and general nature of operations which will inform the scale and scope of “Safety Zones”. Notification and coordination between partner nations to respect such safety zones will prevent harmful interference, implementing Article IX of the Outer Space Treaty and reinforcing the principle of due regard.

ORBITAL DEBRIS AND SPACECRAFT DISPOSAL

Preserving a safe and sustainable environment in space is critical for both public and private activities. Therefore, under the Artemis Accords, NASA and partner nations will agree to act in a manner that is consistent with the principles reflected in the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Moreover, NASA and partner nations will agree to plan for the mitigation of orbital debris, including the safe, timely, and efficient passivation and disposal of spacecraft at the end of their missions.

In fact, this objective of the NASA Artemis Accords is in fact a step forward in the efforts already undertaken to reduce the ecological impact of extra-planetary exploration. In addition, several issues related to the Artemis agreements appear : because of the modern issue of that topic, the international legal framework is uncertain.

The 1967 Space Treaty provides that the freedom of exploration and the freedom to use space are enshrined as privilege of humanity. However, this freedom is framed by the treaty in order to preserve space and celestial bodies from a war and territorial predation. Another international treaty established in 1979 that the Moon, other celestial bodies and their natural resources constitute “the common heritage of mankind” and these resources cannot therefore “become the property of States, international organizations, national organizations or natural persons”. While the NASA Artemis Accords establish that any extraction and use of the resources of the Moon is allowed. To note, this straight is one of its primary principles, as it will enhance the understanding of space soil composition for the future explorers.

In addition to the technological advancements Artemis will undertake, one of the outcomes of this program will be to refine and develop the rules of space. NASA notes that the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 is still in effect, but the new Artemis Accords build on the legal framework to help bolster a peaceful relationship on the Moon and beyond. Moreover, NASA said that the new Artemis Accords will not replace the treaty, but will expand it with more detailed principles for nations set to play a role in the 2024 mission to the Moon.

Eventually NASA seeks to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028 as a result of the Artemis mission. The space agency hopes this colony will uncover new scientific discoveries, demonstrate new technological advancements and lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy. Finally, we can ask ourselves the following questions: will these agreements change ideas about the space conquest? These accords will initiate a new spirit of peace and scientific research in space?

This article was written by Mariam CHERIF, Zineb EL AATIQI, Gassama Babacar FARY, Wu CUIYI and Ismail SOW (Paris-Saclay).

Toucan Space, a French startup by Louis de Gouyon Matignon

Who has never dreamed to go to space? Who has never dreamed to have a piece of space, a rock from the Moon or an asteroid? But even though private trips to space have become possible, it remains too expensive for most people to experience it. So what to do for those who still dream of space? That is where Toucan Space finds its place in the space market.

In this new Space Legal Issues article, we will explain everything to you: how to choose your souvenir for space? How is this possible other than in our most ambitious dreams? And even what are the maximum measurements and weight of your object? At the end of this article, you will understand that space is now within reach of most people thanks to the company Toucan Space. This French startup created by Louis de Gouyon Matignon, named Toucan Space, offers anyone the possibility to obtain a unique gift coming straight from outer space. Of course, said object can be more or less the object of your choice. The idea is quite simple, you choose an object and Toucan Space sends it in space or the International Space Station (ISS) before sending it back to you.

The idea came from Louis de Gouyon Matignon, who founded the startup with his friend, Sébastien Coueille. Dr. Louis de Gouyon Matignon has a PhD in space law and haw worked between both universities Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Paris, France) and Georgetown University (Washington D.C.). Louis is now an innovative entrepreneur under thirty. So as to give life to that idea, an accord had to be found with NASA, they needed an enterprise to send those objects, an enterprise that was already able to travel to space. It took eight months but an accord was made between the French startup and NASA. NASA will take civilian objects to space but there are strict conditions. First of all, the weight is regulated: Toucan Space can send between two hundred and one thousand five hundred grams on suborbital spaceflight and between five hundred and five thousand grams aboard the International Space Station (ISS), so in the Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

Nevertheless, certain objects cannot be sent to outer space: objects that show risks of explosion or electromagnetic interferences, objects that are pornographic or that constitutes hateful content. However, do not attempt to send an item with the NASA logo; indeed, no object with the NASA emblem can be sent to space. Objects that are sent to the International Space Station (ISS) will stay there for a month before it is sent back to Earth with a certificate of authenticity proving that it did indeed go to space.

The first flight is planned for November 2020 (SpaceX CRS-21). The flight is full and one kilogram of objects will be sent on the International Space Station (ISS) this time. Most of those objects belongs to Toucan Space, there are postcards and stickers, all kind of objects with the Toucan Space symbol on it. So as to give a taste of what their startup promises to do, these objects are up for presale on Toucan Space’s website so people can acquire them.

The customers will receive these objects in December 2020 with a certificate of authenticity, proving they were in fact in space. But more flights are to happen by 2021. One flight is scheduled in March, a sounding rocket will be launched with objects in it “at an average altitude of 160 kilometers and a speed of roughly 4.000 kilometers per hour” according to the official Toucan Space website. The sounding rockets will launch from Japan, Swedish Arctic or the United States of America. The other is scheduled in April and, this time, it will be a flight to the International Space Station (ISS). To acquire a place in those flights for their objects, people have up until the end of December 2020.

On a more practical point, it is important to understand how it all unfolds. First, it is important to understand why NASA, which is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, decided to work with Toucan Space. The Agency has recently decided to open the ISS to business in the hopes to bring private enterprises to the ISS. That is why the administration first started to work with SpaceX, using it to bring astronauts to the ISS and back from it. It also works with numbers of other private companies like Adidas or Estée Lauder but their works are more centered around communications and advertisement than on sciences. However it is important to underline that fact that astronauts’ priorities will always be scientific research as NASA has ruled that no astronaut nor will the Agency’s logo will appear in advertisements.

It is also necessary to remember that there is a third actor in Toucan Space’s adventure, SpaceX, which is a private New Space company created by Elon Musk in the hopes to revolutionise space technology. For it is SpaceX’s capsule, called Dragon, that will carry Toucan Space’s objects to the ISS. The private company and NASA have recently started to work together and Toucan Space seized that opportunity. NASA had, before that, no more opportunity to send with an American vehicle American astronauts to the ISS. SpaceX changed that with their spacecraft that can carry up to seven passengers to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and to the International Space Station (ISS). The Dragon capsule can also carry cargo and that is how Toucan Space managed to send objects to space or the ISS. Dragon has been launched twenty-three times and has visited the ISS twenty-two times since the project started. But what is really important is that the Dragon capsule comes back to Earth with its crew in a capsule but also with cargo, allowing a more permanent possibility to have exchanges with space and the ISS.

But Toucan Space offers to take objects to space. There are two choices that are offered to customers: the object can either go for a month in the ISS or it can simply travel in space. It is the Space X’s Falcon 9 that will take care of that. The Falcon 9 will launch with Toucan Space’s objects from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It is a reusable rocket that can transport people and cargo, into Earth orbit but also beyond. The fact that this rocket is reusable is such a great fact and proves that travelling in space does not have to be a disaster for the environment, that there are ways to reuse some parts of space vehicles. Plus, it is interesting that the most expensive parts are the ones that can be reused which drives down the cost of space access. Toucan Space chose to offer a fun service to the public that allows it to reach for a piece of space while still protecting the environment by limiting the impact of their activity on it. So, we told you! With Toucan Space, you can space!

www.toucanspace.com

This article was written by Yacine BENARAB, Aurélien CORNE, Julie DODIN, Rémy JIN, Kévin MAYELE, Hawawou Modjissola SADISSOU and Flavien SALGADO (Paris-Saclay).

ISEE-3: The First Satellite To Reach Lagrange Orbit

A MORE IN-DEPTH STUDY OF THE FORCES AT WORK IN THE MAGNETOSPHERE THANKS TO ISEE-3

ISEE-3 is a satellite from the ISEE program “International Sun-Earth Explorer”. The purpose of this program was to study the relations between the solar wind and the terrestrial magnetosphere.

AN AMBITIOUS COOPERATION BETWEEN EUROPEAN AND AMERICAN AGENCIES

This project was born thanks to the cooperation between the European space agency (ESA) and the National Aeronautics and Space administration (NASA). After the discovery of the magnetosphere by the satellite Explorer 12, scientists had a common will to study the variations and the strengths involved in the magnetosphere in the late sixties.

THE THIRD SATELLITE OF THE ISEE PROGRAM

Historically, ISEE-3 is the third satellite of the ISEE program. It was preceded by two other satellites: ISEE-1 and ISEE-2, respectively built by NASA and ESA. The 22nd of October 1977 a Delta 2914 rocket launched from the Cape Canaveral launching base and proceeded to the orbit insertion of the ISEE 1 and 2 satellites. Their mission was to take measurements of the Magnetosphere from a close range (for accuracy purposes). ISEE-1 (or “ISEE-A” or “Explorer 56”), was developed by NASA, it was the parent satellite, which explains why it was nearly twice the mass of ISEE-2, which was developed by ESA. With that said, ISEE-2 was of crucial importance because it was endowed with a propulsion mechanism that allowed scientists and engineers on the ground to reduce the distance between them in order to execute the planned measurements. They were between 50 and 5000 km away from each other and had the same measuring instruments at their disposal for comparative measurements. Ten years later and almost 1600 orbits around the Earth, the first two satellites of the ISEE program were destroyed the 26th of September 1987, during their re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

THE FIRST MACHINE TO REACH LAGRANGE POINT (L1)

The thrilling story of the ISEE-3 satellite begins a little less than a year after the successful launch of its predecessors on 12th of August 1978. It was built by NASA, and is very similar in design to the ISEE-1 satellite. Its fame results from the fact that it is the first spacecraft to be placed in orbit in the Earth-Sun frame reference on a “Lagrange point” (also known as “libration points“): a position in space wherein the gravitational field of two bodies “nullify” each other (to be more precise, “compensate” each other), thus creating a point of stability for a third body of negligible mass. It was Joseph-Louis de Lagrange (1736-1813), an Italian-French mathematician, who spoke about this as a privileged point in a relationship between two massive objects.

WHAT ARE THE LAGRANGE POINTS ?

There are five Lagrange points. The first one (L1) is located on the Earth-Sun axis about one hundredth of its distance, roughly about 1,500,000 kilometers from our planet. The second (L2) is located, once again on the Earth-Sun axis, but in the opposite direction. This point is located behind the Earth and faces outwards the Solar System. The third point (L3) is “approximately” opposite of the Earth compared with the Sun. The fourth and fifth points (L4 and L5), also called “Trojan points”, are located in the orbit of the smallest mass (the Earth). All of these points are very useful for anyone wishing to gather information about our Solar System or beyond. For example, L1 is ideal for observing the Sun. Finally, there is a distinction between these different points, the so-called “stable” point and the so called “unstable” point. L1, L2, and L3 are not in the same orbit as the Earth (around the Sun), so they would have to be faster or slower than the Earth to orbit the Sun. However, the gravitational forces of the Earth and of the Sun influence the speed of these satellites. Ultimately, it is the gravity generated by these two masses that will stabilise the trajectory and speed of these points. However, if the object on these same points deviates at a given moment, it can leave its orbit and move away from the Earth and the Sun indefinitely. This is why the Lagrange points L1, L2, and L3 are said to be “unstable”, they need propulsion instruments to compensate this instability and not leave their orbit. On the other hand, points L4 and L5 are “stable”, so natural bodies such as asteroids, for example, can be found there. In the Sun-Earth frame of reference, for example, an asteroid (name: 2010 TK7) was discovered at point L4 in October 2010.

MISSIONS

ISEE-3 has reached the Lagrange point L1 the 20th of November 1978. It managed to collect datas both on the solar wind, the cosmic rays and gamma rash. The 10th of June 1982, ISEE -3 left the Lagrange point L1, another mission has been assigned to it, return close at hand of the Earth to study the magnetoqueue and collect datas about the Giacobini-Zinner comets and Halley in 1985- 1986. It will be renamed as ICE (“International Cometary Explorer“). In the Earth-Sun frame reference, the spacecraft which have reach that same point, are the ISEE3, Wind, Genesis and Lisa Pathfinder satellite. Today, new space probes are there like the Soho spacecraft (“Solar and Heliospheric Observatory“) launched in December 1995 and it’s still in activity or the DSCOVR satellite (discover or GoreSat) it contributes to the regular publication on internet about the Earth pictures and the hidden side of the Moon.

ISEE-3 SATELLITE’S LAST MISSION

This project is being carried out by the Space College Foundation. The members of the ISEE-3 Reboot project had obtained NASA’s approval to take control of the spacecraft, they wanted to bring it back to the Lagrange point L1. Even though NASA had been persuaded by this ambitious project, NASA didn’t want to get financially involved. The first step for the members of the ISEE-3 Reboot Project was a fundraising via crowdfunding to deal with the extreme urgency of the deadline of the 10th of August 2014 at the end of which it was impossible to contact the satellite again. This fundraising would allow them to raise $160,000, which is enough money to help them set up a space control center and obtain the basic equipment necessary for their project. The ISEE-3 Reboot Project engineers were assisted by NASA engineers, they were developing a communication device compatible with the satellite. In May 2014, the Space College Foundation team finally re-established contact with the satellite and activated its control system. The satellite returned to the Earth’s vicinity in August 2014, but unfortunately after all the efforts made by the members of the Space College Foundation, the contact had been lost in mid-August 2014 after the probe flew over the Moon and since then there was no more news of ISEE-3.

This article was written by Yacine BENARAB, Aurélien CORNE, Julie DODIN, Rémy JIN, Kévin MAYELE, Hawawou Modjissola SADISSOU and Flavien SALGADO (Paris-Saclay).

All About The First Space Tourist

Have you ever dreamt of traveling among the stars? Dennis Tito has realized this dream. This rich Californian, passionate by cosmos issues since he was seventeen years old, had introduced the idea of space tourism by planning this project with Russia in 2001. Space tourism is human space travel for recreational purpose. This is frequently practiced by rich people who have interests in space. Between 2001 and 2009, seven people have paid to go to space. The American multimillionaire Dennis Tito became the first space tourist in 2001, flying to the International Space Station (ISS) on a Soyuz capsule to the tune of $20 million. Six more space tourists would follow his footsteps, but despite hopes no space tourist has flown since 2009. To date, orbital space tourism has been performed only by the Russian Space Agency.

My personal experience was well beyond my dreams. I was worried that I might not feel well in space. But I turned out to feel the best I felt in my entire life.” These words belong to the American millionaire Dennis Tito, the first “space tourist”. On April 28, he traveled with Talgat Musabayev and Yuri Baturin to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the manned Soyuz TM-32 spacecraft. Two days later, the spacecraft successfully docked to the ISS. And on May 1, 60-year-old Tito held a 20-minute press conference from the International Space Station.

Who was Dennis Tito, the first space traveler in the world?

Dennis Tito’s parents immigrated to the United States from Italy. His father worked in a printing company and his mother was a seamstress. In the early 1960’s, admiring the first astronauts, Dennis Tito dreamed of dedicating himself to the exploration of the universe. In 1962, Tito entered the College of Engineering at New York University. And the following year, he was already working as an aerospace engineer at NASA. Dennis Tito was involved in the calculation of flight paths for interplanetary “Mariner” type stations, and also actively participated in the implementation of automatic station flights to Mars and Venus.

In 1964, the young scientist graduated from the University with a Master’s degree in Engineering Technology. In 1970, he continued his studies at Andersen University at the University of California at Los Angeles. Two years later, Dennis Tito founded his independent investment management company Wilshere Associates Inc. Despite the change of profession, Tito has not lost his interest in space. For a long time, the dream of visiting space seemed unattainable, but in 1999, the Russian commercial space company MirCorp began developing a program to send space tourists aboard the Mir station in order to attract investment to keep it operational. On June 19, 2000, Dennis Tito and the BBC signed a contract with MirCorp, in order for him to become the first space tourist. However, the funds received (more than $70 million) were too small to maintain the station, as many of the systems needed repairs. As a result, in 2001, the Mir station was flooded in the ocean.

Nevertheless, the idea of “space tourism” was taken up by Roscosmos, an agency in charge of the Russian civil space program, so the search for potential candidates was relaunched by Space Adventures. It is with the latter that Dennis Tito signed the contract towards space.

This being said, Denis Tito never wanted to present his space tourism project as a stroke of madness provoked by a millionaire in search of thrills, but as a project that he has thought long and hard about and for which he had invested a lot of personal efforts throughout his life. Moreover, he underwent hard physical training at the Russian Federal Space Agency. The pre-flight training took place in Star City at the training center for cosmonauts like Yuri-Gagarin. Dennis Tito, the first space tourist, arrived on the ISS on April 28, 2001 as a member of the Soyuz TM-32 team and spent 7 days 22 hours and 4 minutes there, after which he returned to Earth.

How does space tourism advance space science and space law?

NASA has a negative view of that new activity by using the international station for touristic purposes. Indeed, this concept of space tourism poses several major problems.

Firstly, the problems related to space debris are still unresolved, which can cause dangers during scientific missions and more broadly for research purposes. It is all the more disturbing to offer the possibility to individuals to pollute space for purely recreational purposes.

Secondly, the solicitation of material and human means for the preparation of an interplanetary stay requires a great deal of organization. The protagonists of such an organization will no longer be willing to prepare a scientific mission.

Thirdly, this new activity seems to be reserved for one of the richest population categories on the planet, which increases inequalities from the point of view of accessibility of space, which is becoming limited to the major economic powers. This equality of access to space is a principle protected by the 1967 Space Treaty, which defines interplanetary space as res communis, a space accessible to all, which cannot be appropriated. If the concept of space tourism is an appropriation of space for tourism purposes, is this not a way for a country proposing this activity or inviting its wealthy citizens to invest in interplanetary travel to limit access to other countries through a de facto appropriation of the space environment?

Above all, this new concept presents a considerable economic advantage: the lack of means to carry out scientific missions in space is a brake on the evolution of interplanetary knowledge. This financial gap can be filled by space tourism because the funds invested by billionaires wishing to go into space is a significant asset to develop methods of moving and living in space that can be used a posteriori for scientific missions. For this flight, Tito paid $20 million. The cost of launching the Soyuz spacecraft at the time was $35 million to $40 million, plus the cost of preparing the astronauts for the flight, about $60,000 for each of the three crew members. Thus, Tito covered half of the cost of launching a Soyuz mission.

It was the first time that a human launch into space was commercially profitable and generated profits. “I spend 60 years on Earth, and I spend 8 days in space and for my view point it was two separate lives. Life on Earth is so different that life in space!” he said on an AP’s interview given on a mediatic sharing of his trip in space. These words allow to conclude on the fact that space tourism offers an extraordinary experience which must surely be experienced and controlled to become an exceptional practice and which allows the development of techniques to improve human practices in space.

Whether scientific or recreational, interplanetary movements must respect space law in force, that is to say to use the right to appropriate space without violating international access to other countries in the world to interplanetary places.

This article was written by Marina NOVAC, Polina SHTEPA, Morgane CAUSSINUS, Jasmine BOUABOUD, Saina BURNASHEVA and Diana DA SILVA (Paris-Saclay).

The Association of Space Explorers

The Association of Space Explorers, commonly known as ASE, is an international nonprofit professional and educational organization of more than four hundred astronauts from thirty-eight different nations (Afghanistan, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam). The ASE was founded by a small group of American and Russian astronauts in 1985, “when the Cold War between East and West was not yet over“, according to Romanian cosmonaut Dumitru Prunariu at one of the first ASE congresses.

Today, the Association of Space Explorers works to promote space exploration, science, engineering, and environmental protection related to these activities. ASE is an international association whose membership is selective because ASE only accepts individuals who have completed at least one orbit of the Earth in a spacecraft, whereas in common parlance an astronaut is a person trained for flight in outer space. But sometimes astronauts prepare their entire careers to travel in space without ever doing so, since even after fifty years in space, only five hundred people had been in space, on average twice, including about fifty women.

Astronauts were initially chosen among military pilots. Recruitment criteria evolved later and, while good physical condition is still required, the emphasis is now placed on psychological balance, technical or scientific competence depending on the position held, and the ability to express oneself in the languages of the main space nations.

ASE has four main missions: education, cooperation, warning and security. The education mission has an important place for the Association of Space Explorers, as it wishes to train manpower with skills in the fields of Science, Science Technology, Engineering Science and Mathematics (STEM). In particular, in 2013, ASE launched the creation of an international scholarship to support and fund STEM and space science education worldwide. In addition, each year, as part of the Community Day organized during the Congress, astronauts visit schools, universities, associations and meet students, teachers and parents, striving to inspire future scientific explorers by sharing their experiences of working and living in space.

The second mission of collaboration and exchange is to maintain international relations to promote space exploration and to secure funding for it. All its members are collectively committed to improving space exploration and to demonstrating the need for very long-term international cooperation for the development of space and exploration activities. It works to foster international dialogue on key issues such as crew safety, space rescue operations, human performance and NEO hazards. In its third warning mission, ASE enables its members to share their unique perspective on Earth to raise awareness of humankind’s responsibilities towards our planet. To this end, the association has launched the Windows on Earth project and the NEO Committee. It also participated in the publication of the best-seller The Home Planet and sponsors many environmental projects and films. ASE’s fourth and final mission ensures the safety of astronauts.

The association works with other international space organizations on the issue of asteroid hazards and threats, as well as on issues of crew safety and astronaut rescue. It ensures the safety of all space flights. The association also carries out multiple activities in order to carry out its numerous missions. For example, ASE organizes planetary congresses, including a famous annual congress attended by astronaut and cosmonaut members from all over the world. Indeed, in an international framework where cooperation is not an empty word, manned space missions and future exploration projects will indeed be at the heart of discussions with a strong concern of those who have returned from space: to show the usefulness of these missions to better understand the universe but also to better protect the Earth with its fragile environment.

Thus, many conferences are being organized, such as the one on October 16, 2017, where explorer Bertrand Piccard and astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who has just returned from his Proxima mission aboard the International Space Station, addressed this theme of environmental awareness. The astronauts, who are the “sentinels of our planet“, also addressed the coming years with the ambitious Chinese space program that plans to build a space station in low orbit or send robots to the surface of the Moon. The building of a base on the moon, the sending of a man to Mars, space tourism have also been on the agenda of the last ASE annual congresses and are trying to respond to current space issues.

Among its many activities, the Association of Space Explorers has a NEO Committee, which is responsible for promoting international cooperation on NEO deflection. As a reminder, a NEO is an asteroid or comet in the solar system that its orbit around the Sun brings at a short distance from the Earth’s orbit, and therefore potentially close to the Earth, which can be dangerous for the safety of humankind. ASE is particularly active within the United Nations to find an international agreement on the management of these dangerous bodies drifting in space and potentially impacting the Earth.

Moreover, ASE has the permanent observer status in the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space and in the United Nations Economic and Social Council, which gives it the opportunity to participate in discussions with the various Member States and to consult their documentation. It also works closely with the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), a committee established in 1958 following the launch of the first Sputnik satellite into space, to develop an international protocol for action in the event of potential asteroid impacts on Earth.

ASE participates in the Committees on Space Exploration and Space Life Sciences organized by the International Astronautical Federation. All these activities are overseen by the International Executive Committee and regional boards of directors. Faced with the health crisis, ASE has had to organize its activities and congresses differently. The last global congress organized by ASE was the ASE executive committee meeting, which took place on July 13, 2020 by videoconference.

Other congresses and activities had been planned, but due to the Covid-19 crisis, ASE members were forced to cancel several activities such as the ASE 2020 face-to-face scientific sessions that were scheduled to be held in Denver, June 19-22, 2020 and finally held in virtual version from August 8-10, 2020. This premier videography conference will feature forty-four hours of lectures with the ASE President’s address, as well as a lecture on the current state of ASE and the presentation of research awards to astronauts, and will be virtually visible until November 10, 2020. In conclusion, as one of ASE’s founders and astronaut would say, ASE was created to respond to a common vision of astronauts “A world where living, working, and exploring in space will be as familiar to humanity as life on our home planet.

This article was written by Marina NOVAC, Polina SHTEPA, Morgane CAUSSINUS, Jasmine BOUABOUD, Saina BURNASHEVA and Diana DA SILVA (Paris-Saclay).

Understanding the Wolf Agreement

Relations between the United States and China have seen many ups and downs over the past decades, but there were still efforts to maintain diplomatic relations. However, trade tensions have increased, reaching a peak over the past two years, to the point of instilling a certain distrust even in more scientific fields. The conquest of space, due to its close relationship with technological advances, has always been considered a sensitive area whose industrial secrets have always been well protected. The current trend is largely towards a collaboration between the different countries, each being able to bring a particular knowledge, to share the data recovered from national mission etc, and this in order to move forward quicker. However this implicit principle seems to not be applied between the United States and China as any collaboration between the two is subject to control under the Wolf Agreement.

It dates back to 2013 when U.S. Republican Franck Wolf, who used to be the lead of NASA appropriator in the House of Representatives, asked NASA to give a list of all the agency’s active Space Act agreements. A Space Act agreement can be defined as a legal agreement between NASA and another entity (a country or a space agency for exemple) in order to advance NASA missions and program objectives as well as to reinforce international cooperation in space activities. At the time, the U.S. space agency had over 550 active agreements with more than 120 nations but had no public list. So why a list of all Space Act agreements was suddenly requested? Franck Wolf never directly targeted China in particular but he was known as one of Congress’s strongest critics of the Chinese government. Being the lead of NASA appropriator in the House of Representatives, he introduced the now-called Wolf Amendment which limits NASA from working with Chinese commercial or government agencies. As to justify his demand of a list of all NASA’s Space Act agreements, he declared « While I suspect many of these (space act agreements) are appropriate, I am concerned that NASA may be sharing sensitive technologies for foreign governments, especially foreign governments that may not share our national interest in space ». Wolf added a provision in a law passed in July 2013 prohibiting NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from spending any appropriated funds on anything related to space cooperation.

These restrictions had reached a point of diplomatic tension at the Kepler Science Conference II that was held in 2013. According to The Guardian newspaper, a Kepler specialist working at NASA wrote an email in which he explained that Chinese nationals, whether they would be student or a worker, could not attend the conference because « « federal legislation passed last March forbids us from hosting any citizens of the People’s Republic of China at a conference held ». This ban has angered an important number of American scientists which decided to boycott the meeting in protest as they could not support an event that would discriminate people based on their nationality. Republican Franck Wolf tried to appease the growing tensions by explaining that it was a misunderstanding on behalf of NASA. He explained that the restriction only apply to bilateral meetings and activities between NASA and the Chinese government, whereas the Kepler Science Conference was a multilateral event.

Franck Wolf introduced a final provision in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, which remains in effect as of today. This provision clearly states that no funds may be spent by NASA to “develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company unless such activities are specifically authorised by law after the date of enactment of this act”. So it’s not really a prohibition as NASA is still able to collaborate with China but it’s under strict conditions. Indeed NASA will have to notify Congress in advance and gets its approval and this only for a specific interaction. For example, in 2019 NASA collaborated with China on the Chang’e 4 mission in order to monitor the moon lander and the rover. The American space agency was able to dot it only because Congress approved the collaboration.

On the other side, the relationship between the European Space Agency (ESA) with China seems more open and cooperative. The two agencies have already collaborated on China’s lunar exploration program. In 2005, there was an agreement which stated that ESA will provide ground stations for control and data relay of the Chang’e missions. In 2014 another pact was signed which allowed the two space agencies to share resources on the ground and in space concerning the training and actual spaceflight of international human crews.

One of the main reasons for the American concern about the Chinese space program is that it’s quite military oriented and definitely lacks transparency. As Dean Cheng, a senior research fellow at the Asian Studies Center explained in 2014, it is important to remind ourselves that China is not in need for cooperation with the US. We still often have the impression that China is only a manufacturing country, an industrial country. But now China has completely caught up with its technological gap and surely even surpassed our knowledge in some areas. A mistake regularly made is that we think we are doing China a favor by cooperating with it whereas the country has a well developed space program. Indeed the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a major space power and definitely has capabilities to access and exploit space that are equal or even exceed those of Europe.

The Chinese space program focuses on three main areas. First is satellites, it goes from communication satellites to weather satellites through navigation and positioning system satellites and earth observation and reconnaissance satellites. On top of this array of satellites, China also has three space launch facilities and uses its Long March vehicle to launch satellites into low, middle and geosynchronous orbits. Secondly is the manned space program, which was quite active up until last year, when the Tiangong space lab was deorbited. And lastly, the lunar exploration program, called Chang’e, which is considered successful through its different missions, though it was not entirely perfect.

The principle concerns lies in the links that the Chinese space program maintains closely with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which is their military. It was created in 1956 with the establishment of the Fifth Academy of the Ministry of Defense. Surely enough, the Chinese military has played and is still playing an essential role in the management of the Chinese space programs. It has been reported that China’s satellites programs are often linked to military uses. Thus, a cooperation with China would probably involved the military. The United States may be afraid that China will benefit from a cooperation and get to data or technology that may improve it’s military power. National security reasons are underlying the Wolf Agreement.

Nowadays, the general opinion is leading towards a peaceful exploration of space, for scientific and humanistic purposes. Nevertheless China seems to have a more military view of space exploration. Yet the path that China is pursuing is in accordance with the rest of its national and international policy which is to extend its influence all around the world.

Nowadays, the debate is open on whether we keep the Wolf amendment or not. Even if the amendment does not prohibit collaboration between NASA and China, it certainly have a cooling effect on the relation between the two agencies. They are more reluctant to work together as it means going through an administrative process and asking permission to the Congress. It certainly limits the liberty of action of NASA. As Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Projects at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, rightfully pointed it out : does the Wolf Amendment have been effective in changing Chinese behaviour, either in space or on Earth? Harrison replied negatively since China’s rise as a space power kept growing.

Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator, is in talks with his Chinese counterpart, CNSA administrator Zhang Keijan, on where the future collaboration between the two countries should be heading. Lunar exploration seems to be the path the two countries would walk on together.

India is sending astronauts in space in 2022: why it is important

As part of the “Make in India” vision of Narendra Modi, India is preparing for its first manned mission, named Gaganyaan, in 2022. It will be a symbolic year for India as it will celebrates the 75th anniversary of the country’s independence. In spite of budgetary constraints and the coronavirus pandemic, India has been insisting on realizing this human spaceflight program.

Currently, four Indian astronauts, that were selected among a group of Indian fighter pilots, are training at Russia’s Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, near Moscow. It was revealed that on June 27, 2019, a contract was signed between the Human Spaceflight Centre of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and Glavkosmos – a subsidiary of Roscosmos – concerning the training of the future Indian space travelers. As a result of its history, competence and knowledge, the Russian space agency will teach the future Indian astronauts about theoretical classes of the basics of astrogation, the basics of manned spacecraft control as well as the Russian language. A part of their training which they already have completed, according to a Roscosmos statement, is different simulations about the different type of landing an astronaut may face : on land, in water or in a cold area etc. But they still need to complete their training about G-force and centrifuge simulations. The Indian astronauts will resume their training in India, where they will receive module specific training.

Like almost every country in the world, India has its own space agency whose headquarters are based in Bangalore – the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Founded in 1969, it’s aiming to develop an independent Indian space program. ISRO spread its activities throughout the country with centres in different cities. Thus for example, the sensors and payloads are developed in Ahmedabad, the satellites are designed, developed, assembled and tested in Bangalore and the launches take place on Sriharikota island.

Throughout the different projects ISRO led and is currently leading, we can observe that the Indian space program has evolved and changed in the last decades. At the beginning of its life, the main goal of ISRO was to catch up with the technologies that the powerful nations of the time had developed. Consequently ISRO developed a program that would encourage the growth of technologies with the goal to provide direct benefits to the nation. The main illustration of this ambition was to launch India’s own satellites in order to be more independent communication wise and to improve everyday communications. As telecommunication has become an acquired technology, India changed its aim. Nowadays ISRO is focusing on space exploration with various Mars and Moon exploratory missions. Having a direct benefit or application as a result of a space program is no longer the priority. According to the « Make in India » program, the prime objective of ISRO is to develop space technology and its application to various national tasks.

Hence the next mission, which is a major step for India : a first crewed space mission, called Gaganyaan, is set to launch in 2022. Part of the Human Spaceflight program, developed by ISRO, it will be an Indian crewed orbital spacecraft. The goal is to demonstrate human space flight capability. It will consists of a crew of 2 or 3 people that will spend approximately 7 days in low Earth orbit (an orbit of 2000 km or less). This ambitious mission shall be a bit tempered as sources reported that an ISRO chairperson explained that it might consists of only one or two crew members taken into space for one to two days, depending on the results of the two unmanned flights that are set prior to the manned mission of 2022. These two unmanned flights are planned in December 2020 and June 2021 but are supposed to be delayed due to the coronavirus.

ISRO has still a long way to go because before completing the unmanned flights, the agency needs to perform 3 major tests : one for the parachute system, one flight of the test vehicle as well as an abort test to demonstrate the escape of the crew in case of an emergency at the launch pad. The unmanned missions will not be « empty » since scientific experiments should be carried out in space. In order to launch the Gaganyaan mission, the GSLV Mk III launch vehicle will be used. It’s the result of India’s efforts and technological advancement of the last decades.

The Gaganyaan mission appears to be the first step toward building India’s own space station in the horizon 2030 with the goal to conduct several missions to study the Sun as well as other planets like Venus.

This mission bears a symbolic and political significance – the “Made in India” vision. For the first time, 75 years after India’s independence, an Indian crew will take off from Indian soil in an Indian spacecraft. Up until now, only two Indian astronauts – including Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian to go into space in 1984 – have flown to space and it was on board of the Russian Soyuz capsule and the US space shuttle.

These last years India has been especially concerned with developing its non-manned mission, with a quite clear ambition to go on the moon. It began with Chandrayaan 1 – literally “mooncraft” – which launched in 2008 and orbited around the Moon, discovering water molecules on the surface of the Moon. The orbiter shut down a little less than a year after its launch due to technical issues but it’s considered a successful mission as it achieved almost all of its scientific objectives. The Chandrayaan program stimulated India’s space program and ISRO developed a second lunar exploration with Chandrayaan 2. The lunar orbiter included the Vikram lander and the Pragyan lunar rover with the aim of mapping and studying the variations in lunar surface composition in addition to the location and abundance of lunar water. Unfortunately, the lander deviated from its trajectory, supposedly due to a software glitch, which caused a hard landing, later confirmed as the crash of Chandrayaan 2. However India ignores these failures and plans a third lunar exploration, Chandrayaan 3, that should launch in 2021. The Moon is not the only celestial object in which India is interested in, Mars is also one of them. A second space probe to Mars is set to launch in 2022.

In order to realize its ambitious projects, India concluded several partnerships with different countries around the world in order to benefit from their knowledge in the field of space exploration. India’s engagement with Russia is not recent and goes back to 1975 when the Soviet Union helped India launched Aryabhata, its first satellite, and Bhaskara, the second satellite, in 1979. Moreover, Russia is a crucial partner concerning satellite navigation : the Russian satellite navigation system « GLONASS » helps India’s own system navigation system « NavIC » and supports the development of the GSLV Launch Vehicle, which powers the Chandrayaan-2 as well as upcoming missions of ISRO by providing the Cryogenic rocket technology.

India also concluded a partnership with France, collaborating on the Gaganyaan mission. Currently the space agencies of the two countries are in an advanced stage of discussions for providing necessary equipment to Gaganyaan astronauts, an equipment similar to the one to be used by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet for Mission Alpha next year. They also exchange knowledge about space medicine : Brigitte Godard, a flight surgeon, was in India last year to train physicians and engineers, and Indian space surgeons should also go to France in order to train once the coronavirus situation eases.

The Gaganyaan mission is an incredibly important step for India and its space program. A successful mission will demonstrate India’s capability to be a part of the leading nation of the space exploration.

Understanding the Advisory opinion on Western Sahara (1975)

For this new article on Space Legal Issues, let us have a look at the Advisory opinion on Western Sahara (1975). During colonisation and conquest times, several methods of acquiring spaces were used. For example, in the 15th and 16th Centuries we used the theory of attribution, by which the Pope notably allocated American lands to Portugal and Spain, and the theory of discovery: a territory was under the sovereignty of the person who discovered this land and therefore by extension of the State which made the mission of exploration.

Another widely used method is that of the actual occupation of so-called “masterless land”. This method was mainly claimed by the colonising States in the 18th Century. To do this, we must first explain the concept of land without a master, or terra nullius. This covers both uninhabited and unsuitable land spaces, but also inhabited spaces but whose social organization differs from that of Western states. It’s a method which has been mainly used on the African continent. Before the Western States had to take into account the populations, even if their political and social organization were different. It was common to deal with peoples to obtain the surrender of the territories where they were established.

It is this notion of terra nullius that was at the center of the advisory opinion Western Sahara of the International Court of Justice in 1975, the Advisory opinion on Western Sahara (1975). Western Sahara is a land located on the northwest coast of Africa, south of Morocco and west of Mauritania. It was and still is a land populated by nomadic tribes. This territory was occupied by Spain during the 20th Century until 1975, when Spain wished to no longer have this region under its protectorate. A dispute has started between neighbouring countries over which one would be to take over from Spain. Hence this opinion of the Court which aimed to clarify the status of this territory. Two questions have been asked to the Court of Justice: was Western Sahara at the time of colonisation by Spain a territory belonging to no one (terra nullius)? What were the legal ties between this territory and the Kingdom of Morocco and the Mauritanian entity?

The documents provided to the Court showed that Sahara at the time was inhabited by people who were socially and politically organised in tribes. Even if their organization differed from the Western one, the Court could not declare Western Sahara as terra nullius. Regarding the first question, the Court ruled that at the time of the colonisation by Spain, Western Sahara was not a territory belonging to no one.

The notion of “legal ties” should be interpreted as ties which could influence the policy to be followed for the decolonisation of Western Sahara. For the Court, the parties must provide evidence demonstrating an exercise of authority during the Spanish colonisation. Morocco has presented acts such as the collection of taxes, military acts of resistance to a foreign invasion in the territory of Western Sahara, international treaties in which the other states recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over this territory. For the Court, these acts do not show international recognition of the legal ties of territorial sovereignty between Western Sahara and Morocco. However, it recognized the existence of a legal link between the Sultan and certain nomadic tribes. Despite social, religious, linguistic, cultural and economic ties, the Court explained that there were no common institutions or bodies between Western Sahara and the Mauritanian entity. On the other hand, the Court considered that the nomadic populations of the Mauritanian group had rights, and which constituted legal links between Western Sahara and the Mauritanian group.

Regarding the second question, the Court declared that there were legal ties between Western Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco and between Western Sahara and the Mauritanian entity. The court recognized and confirmed the links between Western Sahara and Morocco and the Mauritanian group, but specified that these were not enough to establish the existence of a link of territorial sovereignty. It appeared from the advisory opinion that the principle of self-determination must apply to Western Sahara. As of today, Western Sahara is still considered a non-autonomous territory according to the United Nations, that is to say a territory considered to be non-decolonised and whose population is not yet completely self-administered.

The Polisario front relies on the fact that the overwhelming majority of the population living in this territory wants independence and does not want to ally with a neighbouring country. Morocco uses the Madrid agreements and historical links between the Sahrawi tribes and the sultans of Morocco as arguments for its sovereignty over the territory of Western Sahara. These agreements were signed in 1975 and by which Spain, Morocco and Mauritania defined the conditions of the withdrawal of Spain from Western Sahara and the distribution of the territory between Morocco and Mauritania.

Since the Spanish left in 1976, this territory has still not defined its legal status. Its administration is claimed both by Morocco, by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (proclaimed by the Polisario Front in 1976, a movement which seeks to achieve total independence of Western Sahara) and by Mauritania. The international scene has different opinions about the future of this territory. Among other actions, the United Nations organised negotiations between the parties, but these were unsuccessful. Peter van Walsum, former special envoy to the UN Secretary General, said that as long as Morocco does not abandon its claim to sovereignty, Western Sahara can never become independent. The Arab League supports Morocco and wishes this territory of Western Sahara to be an integral part of Morocco. The United States of America has told them it will not support a plan to create a new state in Africa. In conclusion, the situation in Western Sahara is still uncertain and is not likely to change soon.

The Norwegian Space Law

Let us have a look for this new space law article on Space Legal Issues at the Norwegian Space Law. It’s almost a general truth to say that the collective mind associates the history of Norway with the Vikings and their thirst for world conquest. Throughout their history and their travels, the Vikings were established all over the European continent, from Greenland to Portugal all the way through France and Estonia. At the time, their military and commercial powers were undeniable. Because of their skills and technological advance, the Vikings even reached North America in 986, more than 500 years before Christopher Columbus did it.

To be the first country to enter into force a national space law therefore seemed to be part of this tradition of conquest that has animated the country over the past centuries. Norway has always seemed to want to discover and know the world without imposing its presence somewhere.

As is often borne out by discussion, the term “national space law” is used with a considerable degree of variation in scope. In the broader sense, it would encompass all law on a national level exclusively or predominantly applicable to outer space or space activities. Thus, a law creating a national space agency as such would already be labelled a national space law. Even broader, all national law exercising substantial impact upon space activities could be qualified as national space law, including for example legislation related to financing of mobile assets, insurance of certain activities, or general tort liability rules to the extent applicable (also) to space activities. Under such definitions, a considerable number of states would qualify as states having some sort of national space law(s).

However, very often such broad definitions loose their distinctiveness, and hence their value as an analytical tool. The major legal development within space activities over the last two or three decades is the increasing private involvement therein; therefore, a narrower definition of national space law as only that law which deals substantively with (the regulation of) private space activities.

Considering the Norwegian Space Law, the distinctive characteristic of the Norwegian Act of 1969 is that it only contains three paragraphs. Short but effective. The main article states that anyone launching an object into outer space from Norwegian territory or facilities requires permission from the Minister of Trade and Industry. The following paragraphs specify that only the Ministry can issue regulations on control of activities such as launching objects into outer space and that this act enters into force immediately.

A point which seems interesting enough to note is that this act submit the launching of an object into space to an authorisation if it’s done on the Norwegian territory but also if the launching is done from a territory without sovereignty and made by a Norwegian citizen. This act is therefore assigned a rationae personae competence. Following this act, the Norwegian Space Law, Norway ratified the United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty in July 1969.

Previously called the Andoya Rocket Range, the Andoya Space Centre is the only entity to benefit from the authorisation to launch objects from Norway territory into outer space: it enjoys a strategic geographical position, located very to the north, with limited air traffic and large bodies of water around. This launch point also has great experience with the launch for sixty years of sounding rockets. This space center could be the first spaceport on mainland Europe. Its main objective would be to launch satellites for Earth observation and communications. Although Norway is not a Member State of the European Union, the country is part of ESA since 1987 and actively participates in its activities.

The Norwegian space program specialises mainly in satellites. But Norway also specialized in the field of sounding rockets and has contributed to their development. Sounding rockets are rockets that test instruments that will be used on satellites and spacecraft in order to provide information about the Sun, stars, galaxies and Earth’s atmosphere and radiation. The country also contributed to missions such as Spacelab 1 and 2, the ESA’s cluster mission and the joint ESA/NASA mission SOHO, among others.

In 2013, the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry delivered a report in which it draw the outlines of the Norwegian space policy. It lays down the four goal that the Norwegian government set. The first one is to keep settling in the space market so that growth and employment continue to increase. As described in the report, Norway’s participation in many ESA projects has enabled the country to be of a sufficient importance to be able to face market competitors. The next goal is to continue to meet the important needs of society. The third goal set by the Norwegian government is to increase Norway’s participation in the international space collaboration and more precisely into ESA’s programs. Eventually, the fourth and final main goal is to improve the quality of the Norway national administration of space activity by having more experts that would be able to identify national needs and judge the quality of technical proposals.

The report uses a term that rightly describes the Norwegian space policy, but also the Norwegian way of functioning in general. This term is “pragmatic”. Norway never intended to establish a colony on Mars but rather to use space to meet the needs of its people. With this perspective in mind, Norway has therefore established three priorities. The first one is to give the country the means to have a space-based service offer than can meet the needs of its population. Then, the country wants to develop its high tech economy and finally wants to strengthen its research capabilities. Currently, the Norwegian government is preparing a new space strategy as well as an update for the Norwegian space law.

As well, it appears from this report that Norway seems to have an almost environmental approach to space. The country wants to use space in a sustainable and respectful way. Especially regarding the exploitation of resources on the Moon and Mars, the country wishes to guarantee equal access for everyone and that the profits from this exploitation be redistributed equitably. In the future, Norway could therefore emerge as the model to follow for a respectful use of space or could try to influence the future space laws and policies in order to enforce principles of fair and sustainable use of space and its resources.

History of the French Hermes spaceplane

For this new space law article, let us have a look at the French Hermes spaceplane. In Greek mythology, Hermes is a deity of Olympus. His main mission is to be the messenger of the Gods. The name Hermes was surely chosen in reference to this function, the French spaceplane representing a bridge between Earth and the rest of space.

This project was part of an endless human dream: reaching for the stars and beyond. It all began in the 1980’s when the United States of America and the Soviet Union were the only two leaders in the space race. Major steps had already been taken through the Vostok mission, which send the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into outer space and through the Apollo program, which send the first humans on the Moon. During the 1970s and 1980s, the race for space conquest slowed down and stabilised itself as the technologies were getting safer. However there were still only two great powers participating in this race.

Europeans decided to enter the market by launching the Ariane space program in 1973, in order for Europe to be more independent from space powers, therefore from the United States of America or the Soviet Union. Yet, the aim of the Ariane space program was, and still is, to be able to put satellites into orbit. No manned flight was planned. This is why in parallel to the development of the Ariane launcher, another program started to appear: the Hermes spaceplane.

The roots of the program first developed themselves in French minds. At the beginning, it was solely a French project: the National Centre for Space Studies, or CNES, proposed in 1975 a spaceplane design. Despite the French roots, the program has grown into a European program. As the costs kept increasing, France understood that it would need the help of its European partners in order to carry out this project. The project was therefore designed as a spaceplane that would provide an independent access to space for Europe, thus allowing the old continent to enter the space conquest. More than that, it was about ensuring “human access” to space.

Starting as a small spaceplane, the project soon evolved, by 1984, into a small mini space shuttle capable of carrying four to six people to outer space, in addition with a five tons payload. The human mind has always had the delusions of grandeur, and that is why it has sinned in this project. The desire to send more and more passengers and cargo into space, and the desire, in fine, to arrive first in the race, started a vicious circle.

Indeed, as explained above, the small spaceplane evolved into a space shuttle capable of carrying several people as well as a significant cargo. When the project was designed, the goal was to use the Ariane launch vehicle to launch the French Hermes spaceplane, thus ensuring a full European program. Nonetheless, the project designers realised that the Hermes mini space shuttle was too heavy for the existing Ariane launch vehicle. It was decided to upgrade the Ariane launch vehicle so as to support the European space shuttle.

However, by 1986, the estimated costs of the French Hermes spaceplane had grown exponentially, up to one and a half billion dollars. But the costs did not stop at the sole design of the Hermes space shuttle: the amount of the adaptation of the Ariane launcher reached the sum of 2 billion dollars. The year 1986 brought more bad news: in addition to the concerns related to the increase in costs, which did not seem to stabilise, there was the Challenger disaster. The Challenger disaster refers to the explosion of the NASA space shuttle, called Challenger, in January 1986. The explosion occurred only seventy-three seconds after liftoff and claimed the lives of all seven astronauts aboard of the space shuttle. This disaster was caused by two rubber O-rings, which sealed the joints of the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters, which had failed due to the cold temperatures on the morning of the launch. This tragedy truly impacted the NASA space program but also had many consequences on the space programs of other countries and thus on the Hermes spacecraft project. One of the major consequences was the strengthening of safety standards. This tragedy made the industry, as well as the people, realise the gravity of the consequences if a security measure is not respected.

Consequently, adaptations were made on the Hermes spaceplane project in order to answer these safety questions. Thus, instead of taking six astronauts, the European space shuttle would only carry three astronauts. The payload mass was also reduced from five tons to three tons. Moreover, the Ariane launcher had, again, to be upgraded as the spaceplane was getting heavier. This again generated many additional development costs.

The cost of the project increased so much that, at the beginning of the 1990’s, it eventually reached the estimated sum of four and a half billion dollars. Although the project was European, it was mainly funded by three countries: France, which provided forty per cent of the funding, Germany and Italy. But the Germans have often expressed reservations about this project. Indeed, they often wanted to leave the program, mainly because of safety concerns and growing costs, but due to their own space program, they needed the Hermes space shuttle.

Difficulties started to emerge in the 1990’s. First, mergers were announced in order, perhaps, to centralise the conception, the costs, among a lot of factors. The ESA and CNES teams formed only one team as well as the four main industrial contractors which formed the “Euro Hermespace” management company. Despite the numerous efforts made to sustain the project, the costs kept growing and growing, reaching the staggering sum of six billion dollars. The project took on huge proportions, quickly becoming out of control. The viability of the project was starting to weaken. Actions needed to be taken.

The Hermes spaceplane project shows us two things: how an idea can become a concrete and feasible project when European cooperation is successful but also, how a project can be nullified from the moment when the European cooperation begins to no longer work, when countries can’t exchange anymore. Several times, meetings were organised in order to decide on the future of the project and to lay down the future guidelines to follow. But the countries participating in the project failed to reach to an agreement and the project was postponed.

What started in the 1980’s as a European space shuttle that could take up to six people into outer space has been reduced to a technology demonstration, with no man onboard, called the “Hermes X-2000” project. Its cost was reduced to two billion dollars. With the aim in mind of reducing costs as much as possible, cooperation with Russia has even been taken into consideration. But the pitfall of such a cooperation is the non-negligible decrease of the independence the project was supposed to give to Europe. The idea was, for Europe, to be able to have an independent way to access space, without relying on the United States of America, nor the Soviet Union, and be part of the great space power.

But then again, in 1992, the Hermes X-2000 project was downsized, its cost went from two billion dollars to four hundred and five millions dollars. Despite all the efforts made to save the project, it was in the end abandoned as it was judged too pricey and too uncertain. Unlike the United States of America, France does not have an individual vision of space. The country has allied with European countries but also with the international scene in order to be able to develop a cooperation as well as an international program of development and conquest of space. The failure of this project allowed us to learn a lesson: unity is strength.

Understanding the North Sea Continental Shelf cases (1969)

For this new public international law on Space Legal Issues, let us have a look at the North Sea Continental Shelf cases (1969). The question of the law of the sea has always been an issue, and especially since the time of colonisation in the 15th Century. Two main school of thoughts were always in opposition: on the one hand, there were the partisans of a sea which would belong to nobody and on the other hand, the partisans of the extension of the sovereignty of the State to the sea. So when Grotius published Mare Liberium (“The open sea”), a publication in favor of the freedom of the seas, Selden responded by publishing Mare Clausum (“The closed sea”), in which he declared English sovereignty over the sea around the British Isles. Despite the debate, the freedom of the seas was the concept retained and respected by the majority. Even today, a large part of the seas and oceans remain without any sovereignty and are called international waters.

However, the beginning of the 20th Century and the two world wars changed the rules. The States started to be concerned about the law of the sea. In 1930, an attempt to reach an agreement on the law of the sea failed and it was the Truman Proclamation on the Continental Shelf of 1945 that greatly influenced the development of the law of the sea. In this proclamation, the United States of America declared its sovereignty and jurisdiction over the natural resources of the continental shelf. In addition, the proclamation considered the continental shelves as an extension of the land of a coastal nation. This point of view was so vastly used that it has been codified in the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea.

The continental shelf is currently at the center of disputes between coastal states. But what is a continental shelf? It can be defined as the area of a land on the edge of a continent that slopes into the ocean. It extends from the coastline of a continent to a point called the shelf break. They are part of the continent and thus, each country that has a coastline has a continental shelf. These places are very strategic and are, from an economic point of view, necessary for the States. The continental shelf is very often rich in hydrocarbons, such as oil and gas, and in biological resources too. Such resources are more than necessary for the present economy and for human kind. For these reasons, the continental shelves are the subject of a merciless battle between the States which seek at all costs a part of it. This has led to a multitude of conflicts, the best known of which would be the North Sea Continental Shelf Cases (1969).

The North Sea Continental Shelf Cases (1969) opposed Germany v. Denmark and the Netherlands and concerned a series of disputes that came before the International Court of Justice in 1969. The disputes were about agreements, or this case disagreements, between Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, regarding the delimitation of areas of the continental shelf in the North Sea. The parties had organised negotiations in order to find an agreement on the delimitation of the boundaries of the continental shelf.

If the delimitation had been determined by the equidistance rule (which is drawing a line, each point of which is equally distant from each shore), Germany would have received a smaller portion of the North Sea Continental shelf. The Federal Republic of Germany refused to use a principle that would have given it an unfair share. As the negotiations were fruitless, the countries decided to submit the matter to the International Court of Justice.

Germany argued and wanted the Court to determine the shares in proportion of the size of the state’s adjacent land, which Germany found to be a just and equitable share. However, in order to have the Court apply the principle of equidistance to settle the conflict, Denmark and the Netherlands invoked the fact that they had ratified the Geneva Continental Shelf Convention of 1958. According to the Article 6 of this convention, in the absence of an agreement, “the boundary shall be determined by application of the principle of equidistance”. For them, the equidistance principle was simply not a method of cartographical delimitation but an essential element in a rule of law, which should be applied. A new problem arose: Germany had not ratified the convention.

Thus leading to the main question the Court had to answer: was the equidistance principle a customary international law binding on all States, or as it rephrased it, is the Federal Republic of Germany under a legal obligation to accept the application of the equidistance principle? The Court ruled in its judgement delivered in February 1969 that the delimitation of the shares should be decided by an agreement between the Parties and most importantly, in accordance with equitable principles. Each party should have roughly the same portion of the continental shelf. With this judgement, the Court rejected the use of the principle of equidistance as defined in the Geneva Convention. It also declared that this principle was not a mandatory rule of customary international law as it was not a settled practice. The Court also argued that the Geneva Convention of 1958 could not be opposed to the Federal Republic of Germany.

Concerning the North Sea Continental Shelf cases (1969), as the parties had already agreed to delimit the shares of the continental shelf by agreement, the Court was therefore not responsible for prescribing the rules that should be applied in order to settle the conflict. As new negotiations would begin, the Court indicated that several factors should be taken into account, such as the configuration of the coasts and the physical structure and natural resources of the continental shelf areas, and the shares should be determined in a fair and equitable manner.

The United States Convention of the Law of the Sea of 1982 laid down the rules concerning the delimitation of the continental shelf belonging to a State. Now, it includes an area up to 200 nautical miles from the baseline of a state’s coast. But it can extend up to 350 nautical miles only if in return, the State distributes the resources drawn from this bonus. However, as in the North Sea Continental Shelf Case, the coasts of two states may be adjacent or opposite and may interfere with this famous area of 200 nautical miles. In this case, a “marine delimitation” will be necessary. It usually results from negotiations between the States, which would have to follow the law of the sea. If the negotiations are fruitless, the matter can be settled either by an arbitral tribunal, by the International Court of Justice or by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. This is what can be said concerning the North Sea Continental Shelf cases (1969).

Understanding the Fisheries Case

Let us have a look for this new Public International Law article at the Fisheries Case. The territory of a State is the basis of its sovereignty, the basis of its power. Thanks to its territory, whether it is land, air or sea, the State then has many resources that it can use in order to develop its economic growth, technical progress and trade relations. Representing such challenges, the territory is very often a source of conflicts between States. Many Agreements, Conventions and Treaties have been concluded between States in order to establish rules for the management of these territories. For example, the 1982 Montego Bay Convention divides maritime space into different categories and sets out the legal regime for each of them. It clearly determines which area belongs to the territory of a State and which area does not belong to it. The Chicago Convention of 1944 does the same thing, but this time for airspace and establishes a system of authorisations for the crossing of these airspaces.

In the United Kingdom versus Norway Case of 1951, also known as the Fisheries Case, the dispute is over a maritime area where fishing was an important resource: the point was to figure out how much of that maritime zone was Norwegian, where Norway would have exclusive fishing rights, and how much was considered as high seas, meaning that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland could freely fish in this zone. The dispute dates from the mid 1930’s. In 1935, Norway implemented a decree which explains that certain fishing zones or grounds located at its northern coast were reserved only for its own fishermen. To counter attack this decree, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland argued that the baselines described in the decree were not conform to the general direction of the coast and were not drawn in a reasonable manner.

In 1949, concerning the Fisheries Case, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland submitted a request to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in order for it to determine with precision the extent of Norwegian maritime territory in the area of the dispute. The country also asked for financial compensation claiming that its fishing vessels were prevented from continuing their activities. Furthermore, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland complained that the claims of Norway were against the rules of Public International Law. The main point was to determine if the lines of delimitation of the Norwegian decree were valid in regards of the International Law.

One of the issues was that the coastal zone of Norway is quite “confused”. Indeed, it is very mountainous, often broken by fjords and bays, meeting in the way a lot of islands, islets and reefs. The least we can say is that the coast does not constitute a clear line between the land and the sea. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland divided its argument into four main points. The first argument resided in the fact that Norway could and should only draw straight lines across bays to determine the base lines. Then they went deeper into the argumentation by stating the fact that some of the lines did not follow the general direction of the coast or did not follow it correctly as well as not respecting certain connection of sea and land separation. For the third argument, they demonstrated that the Norwegian system of baselines delimitation was unknown to the British and that Norway did not provide a historic title enforcement over some of the fjords. Eventually, the fourth argument was more technical explaining that the length of lines drawn on the formations of the Skaergaard fjord must not exceed ten nautical miles.

For its defense, Norway on the Fisheries Case replied that they should draw lines following the natural direction of the coast. Moreover, Norway added that it was within its rights to claim fjords and sounds (large sea or ocean inlets) as well as their territorial waters, using the reason of its historic title to these lands which the Court agreed to.

By a judgement of December 18, 1951 concerning the Fisheries Case, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Norway’s claims over the maritime zone were conform to the International Law concerning the ownership of a sea space. By ten votes to two, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) explained that the method used by Norway to delimit and implement the baselines were not contrary to the International Law. This point is actually quite important and has several consequences for other States. According to a CIA report of the case, by agreeing with the Norwegian method, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) implied that each nation has the right to determine its territorial sea using criteria such as “geographical realities”, historical precedent and economic necessity. This solution implies that more and more coastal nations are going to want to extend their maritime territorial zone. It also has various implications for other nations such as Iceland, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Denmark and so on.

Rules have been implemented in order to avoid future conflicts over maritime zone and more specifically over fishing zone. Thus, an exclusive fishing zone has been created: it is an area with a length of twelve nautical miles from the coast in which the State has the right to fish. However, some States wanted to take advantage of their coastal position and wanted to claim a bigger zone in which they will right to fish. The idea was for the States to get a better control in the maritime businesses beyond their territorial limits. It was then the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which established the legal basis for the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This zone stretches from the baseline out to two hundred nautical miles from its coast. It is an area in which the State has a sovereign right to explore, exploit, conserve and manage biological natural resources. However, the precise delimitation of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is also a source of disputes between States: between Norway and Russia, between Italy and Slovenia, between France and Canada, between Canada and the United States of America and so on. The resources contained in these areas are of such a great importance that it becomes vital for countries to have as many as possible.

The growing scarcity of biological resources will only exacerbate the problem of conflicts between coastal states. The Hague Court of Justice will undoubtedly see more and more cases on its agenda over maritime territorial zones and exclusive economic zones conflicts. This is what can be said concerning the Fisheries Case.