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).