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.