Space Law 101 for beginners - An Introduction to Space Law

Who is a Space Lawyer?

Making a career out of the final frontier: Space Law and Practise.

Anne Agi

12/7/2021 4 min read

Introduction

Scope and Relevance of Space Law

Space law is necessary to co-ordinate activities in activities in outer space and one earth as long as they affect or relate to space. It covers issues such as the militarisation of space, liability for any damage of a space object, protection of the space environment, recue of astronaut, registration of space objects, human use of space resources, extent of exploitation e.t.c. Space law is relevant to ensure that the final frontier is chartered with regulation and order in order to avoid chaos that will be detrimental to human kind.

Relevance of lawyers in space affairs

Is there any place for lawyers, civil or criminal, in space? What legal frameworks exist for crime committed in space as well as other legal issues currently seen in the space law arena?

Space law admittedly is a developing area. Thus, lawyers are needed in the Space Industry to draft space laws, protocols and policies for their nations and the international community, in corporate international transactions. For example, as early as the 2000s, lawyers drafted the Space Assets Protocol and Cape Town Convention, which created an international regime for the secured finance of satellites, so you could use satellites as collateral.

There are going to be jobs for space lawyers out there as the industry grows, there will be jobs required by the space industry, and then by government agencies that are now short-staffed with space lawyers to draft space law and policies. They need more good lawyers.

In the academia, lawyers will also be needed to groom space lawyers.

Legal departments of airports, airlines, aerospace companies, civil aviation authorities need space lawyers.

Business men and capitalists are seeking experienced lawyers to draft multilateral space agreements and commercial agreements for space travels, exploration and mining as well as insurance and loan contracts between them as investors and space enthusiasts. Investors in the space industry need lawyers to advice them as they engage with aviation companies who build rockets and space infrastructure and equipment.

Making a career out of the final frontier: Space Law and Practise.

A space lawyer is simpliciter any lawyer who works in the space industry. Either in Academia, the private sector (Space related companies and start ups ) or with the government. Lawyers are engaged to draft legal agreements at both the international and local level. They advise government agencies and space companies on how to explore space and use space technology in line with the existing rules and treaties governing space affairs.

Space law practice can be viewed as part international politics, part lobbying and part science. It is a great professional niche for lawyers who fancy politics, negotiation and international relations. To practice space law, one should have a good understanding on international law, domestic space regulations and commercial laws. Due to the global nature of space itself space lawyers have a wide international network in the industry and can fit into other fields and industry related to the sector like aviation, telecommunication, aerospace, e.t.c. In a nutshell, it is an emerging and highly technical field of law but it is interrelated with other fields and that creates a lot of opportunities for interested professionals

Importantly, to make strides in the sector one has to be concerned about space technology and exploration especially policy making, strategies and regulations. Practicing space law will give one the chance to be a part of the future and is lucrative just as space is because as technologies and government priorities change, the laws and agreements that govern activity in space must also change. Space lawyers get to be a part of this evolution .They stand at the fore front to be leaders in making international agreements and policies in this emerging field.

Space law is a lot of contracts. When you think about what it takes to get a vessel into outer space, it involves a lot of the same negotiations and lawyering that it takes to get an airplane into the atmosphere. Who’s going to man the spaceship? Where are the parts going to come from? Also, a lot of space law is related to satellites, so it involves the communications industry and the body of laws governing it.

Furthermore, knowledge of international trade law, IPR, tort liability or general telecom and cyber law are becoming important for space activities, too.

To become a space lawyer, passion for the industry is essential and a very strong legal background. So you must be a professional who has love for the law as well as for space.

In particular, and beyond a successful law degree, attorneys need to specialize in space law. While many practitioners have accidentally fallen into space law while practicing in other areas of law, others specialize by attending a program at Universities like the McGill University, the University of Nebraska, the International Space University (ISU) the International Academy of Space Law, Russia (IASL), the African Regional Centre for Space Science and Technology in English (ARCSSTE-E), OAU, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria as well as other Colleges of repute where courses are taught on space law.

To venture into the space law field, I encourage colleagues to read everything they can about the subject, then try writing about it, whether on a blog, on Twitter or elsewhere. Engage your passion; in this way, you will find out whether or not you are passionate about it. 

Conclusion

On the ‘Next Fest’ stage in Los Angeles, California, on September 13, 2007, Google announced the Lunar XPrize, a competition that encouraged private entities to land a rover on the moon. Across the country at NASA’s headquarters in Washington D.C., attorneys were suddenly faced with some of the biggest legal questions they could have ever imagined: What happens if a private company accidentally destroys the Apollo 11 landmarks on the moon?

What if it contaminates bodies in space destroying their scientific potential?

Can private entities own portions of space?

Thirteen years later, the answer remains unclear because of untested laws conceived half a century apart. Should these kinds of issues arise in Nigeria, do we have space law experts to deal with them? If we decide to revamp our national policies on space law, how many of the country’s lawyers are experts in this field to advise.

It is therefore imperative that our Universities begin to train our students on Space Law. Currently, there are only a few schools that give students these opportunities. This ought not to be so. There should be more Universities that have Space Law courses. This is so because as the space industry grows, there will be need for space lawyers.

 

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