A recent Tuesday in October 2017 saw the headquarters of the British Interplanetary Society in London play host to a one day symposium on Space Law, celebrating not only World Space Week but also the 50th anniversary of the inception of the Outer Space Treaty (OST), the most important source of legislation concerning space.
In many ways a new departure for the Society, the world's oldest space advocacy organisation, the day focused on different aspects of the OST. There was the usual warm welcome from the Society, including from the President of the Society, Mark Hempsell and it was wonderful to see the Society's headquarters so full, especially on a weekday.
Jerry Stone FBIS, space presenter and a Fellow of the Society, commenced proceedings with an introduction followed by a discussion of the Outer Space Treaty in the context of the SPACE Project, an ongoing study into space settlement that forms one of the Society's ongoing activities. His theme was to consider whether the OST assists efforts to develop space, or whether it hinders such aims. He noted that the construction of large space habitats, as proposed by Dr Gerard O'Neill in his studies from the 1970s, was likely to require the utilisation of large amounts of extraterrestrial resources and so questions about the legality of such efforts were important in considering how such plans might proceed.
The following speaker was Danny Greenland LLB LLM, a legal researcher with the Northern Space Consortium, who provided a detailed examination of the international regime concerning the deep seabed. Danny's analysis provided insights into how the legal regime for outer space may develop, due to the similarities in environmental challenges and possible rewards from mineral mining on the seabed and in outer space. His talk described the history of pragmatic compromise that the deep seabed's regime had undergone, balancing the concept of the common heritage of mankind with the aspirations for economic development of minerals to be found on the ocean floor.
|Danny Greenland at BIS|
|Dr Chris Newman|
After some excellent catering courtesy of BIS, we had the benefit of hearing from Mukesh Bhatt, a researcher and guest lecturer from the School of Law, Birkbeck College. Mukesh's presentation concerned how effective the OST and the way it is implemented is at dealing with challenges or disputes; an examination of the limits of UN Space Law. One point outlined in the talk was that whilst the Moon Agreement, which followed the OST, might not have been widely ratified, it has still been ratified by enough countries to have entered into force. As such, it was an effective Treaty from the United Nations' perspective.
Following Mukesh's excellent exposition on a fascinating subject, it was my turn. My talk was entitled "The Common Heritage of Mankind meets Star Trek." I sought to compare Space Law's common heritage of mankind concept with the, perhaps more familiar, Prime Directive from Star Trek. Having given a number of talks on Space Law on these topics, I have gained the impression that many view the common heritage of mankind concept, and the OST and Moon Agreement more broadly, as unnecessary hindrances to the commercial development of space. By using the Prime Directive as an analogy, I sought to persuade the audience that in fact these principles can be the foundation for an enlightened, rational society that seeks to expand into space.
The day was highly enjoyable and passed very quickly. As is often the case, there was a lot of energetic discussion about the concepts begin examined and the audience was able to ask as many questions of the speakers as they wished.
|The BIS headquarters in Vauxhall, London|