Thursday, 9 November 2017

A Space Law Symposium at the British Interplanetary Society

by Adam D.A. Manning

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
Next was Dr Chris Newman, a leading expert in Space Law, from the University of Sunderland.  His fascinating talk was entitled, "Embedding sustainability: The future of the Outer Space Treaty?" and looked at how effective (or otherwise) the OST was in tackling the problem of space debris, which threatens to seriously hamper the development of space.  The mitigation of space debris has been an area of interest within the BIS. His conclusion was that this was not a scenario that the drafters of the OST were contemplating when it was drawn up but it was possible to take action nevertheless.

Dr Chris Newman
The symposium than had a break for lunch and we enjoyed some rather nice catering at BIS.  At lunch, I had a look at the Russian launch simulator, which had been used for educational purposes during a recent school visit.

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.

Mukesh Bhatt

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.

Adam Manning
We were lucky enough to have a really fascinating talk to finish the day from Raphael Costa, Executive Secretary of the French Institute for Space and Telecommunications Law, who have travelled from Paris for the day, on how the OST might be different if it was drafted today.  Interestingly, Raphael noted the many oddities about the Treaty and how in some respects, its drafting was inconsistent with the normal structures of Treaties. It would be written rather differently if drawn up in 2017.

Raphael Costa

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 speakers
The BIS welcome extended to a sojourn to a local hostelry after what had been a fascinating day.  It was impressive to listen to a number of knowledgeable speakers who went into great detail concerning their subjects. I would like to thank the BIS for giving me the opportunity to give another talk at their headquarters, which, given the BIS' long and illustrious history, is always an honour.

The BIS headquarters in Vauxhall, London


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Star Trek and Space Law

Star Trek recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and to mark the occasion, Astrosociological Insights have published an issue containing articles linked to that famous science fiction television series.

My research into Space Law, in particular the concept of the Common Heritage of Mankind (CHM), indicated to me that there is a definite thematic similarity to the well known Prime Directive, the familiar regulation from Star Fleet that seems to only be observed in the breach. As a result, I've written an article that looks at these links and I was delighted that this was included in the Star Trek themed edition of Astrosociological Insights, which is available here:

My article starts on page 8.  If you have any comments about this, do let me know.  Comparing the two has proved to be a useful and humorous way of understanding the CHM, which is not always the most direct of principles to grasp.