International Space Law

The international law framework

‘The States Parties to this Treaty,

Inspired by the great prospects opening up before mankind as a result of man’s entry into outer space,

Recognizing the common interest of all mankind in the progress of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes,

Believing that the exploration and use of outer space should be carried on for the benefit of all peoples irrespective of the degree of their economic or scientific development,

Desiring to contribute to broad international cooperation in the scientific as well as the legal aspects of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes,

Believing that such cooperation will contribute to the development of mutual understanding and to the strengthening of friendly relations between States and peoples,

Recalling resolution 1962 (XVIII), entitled “Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space”, which was adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 December 1963,

Recalling resolution 1884 (XVIII), calling upon States to refrain from placing in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction or from installing such weapons on celestial bodies, which was adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly on 17 October 1963,

Taking account of United Nations General Assembly resolution 110 (II) of 3 November 1947, which condemned propaganda designed or likely to provoke or encourage any threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression, and considering that the aforementioned resolution is applicable to outer space,

Convinced that a Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, will further the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,’

[under Resolution 2222 (XXI) agreed the United Nations Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the ‘Outer Space Treaty’)].

United Nations Treaties and Principles on Outer Space, related General Assembly resolutions and other documents. (Full document available HERE *)

The Outer Space Treaty provides the basic framework on international space law, including the following principles:

  • the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;
  • outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
  • outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
  • States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;
  • the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;
  • astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind;
  • States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental entities;
  • States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects; and
  • States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

The Treaty was opened for signature by the three depository Governments (the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States of America) in January 1967, and it entered into force in October 1967.

On-line resources

Air Law Institute.

European Centre for Space Law (ECSL).

‘Guaranteeing Space Security in an Age of Increasing Dependence’ by Nick Shave.*

Institute of Air and Space Law of the University of Cologne.

Institute of Air and Space Law (IASL – McGill University).

International Institute of Space Law.

Idest (Institut du Droit de l’Espace et des Telecommunications).

London Institute of Space Policy and Law.

Legislative Research and Space Law (NASA).

List of Government Space Agencies.

NASA (Office of the General Counsel).

Outer Space Act 1986.*

‘Outer Space and International Law’, by Ben Baseley-Walker, Advisor, Security Policy and International Law, Secure World Foundation (presented at the China Academy of Sciences, International Workshop on Space Policies and Laws, 05/17/11).*

‘Perspectives for a Law of Outer Space’ by Myres S. McDougal and Leon L. Lipson, Yale Law School.

RUSI Space and UK National Security Conference Panel: “International Trends and Developments in Space Policy” Presentation: “Developing a More Collaborative US Space Policy” 14 Jun 11, Royal United Services Institute, London.*

Space.Com.

Space Law gateways (University of Aberdeen).

Space Law and Policy resources.

Space Law and Space Resources, by Philip R Harris.

‘Space Law 101: An Introduction to Space Law’, by Matthew J. Kleiman, Corporate Counsel at the Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, MA, chair of the Space Law Committee of the ABA Section of Science and Technology Law, and teaches Space Law at Boston University. Space Policy Online.

Space News (European Space Agency).

Space Research Center (Cranfield University).

Space Security and Defense (George C. Marshall Institute).

‘Targeting in Outer Space: Legal Aspects of Operational Military Actions in Space’ by P.J.Blount.*

United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.

UN Resolution 2222 (XXI) of the General Assembly adopting the Space Treaty.

United Nations National Space Law Data Base.

United Nations Space Law Links.

United Nations Treaties and Principles on Space Law.

UN Web TV (Space Law).

US Department of Defense National Security Space Strategy.

US Department of Commerce (Office of Space Commercialization).

United States National Security Space Strategy (unclassified summary January 2011).*

Government National Space Security Policy.*

University of Leiden International Institute of Air and Space Law.