Space law encompasses both international and domestic agreements, regulations, and concepts that regulate space-related activity. Space exploration, responsibility for damage, weapons usage, rescue attempts, environmental protection, information exchange, new technology, and ethics are all aspects of space law. Administrative law, intellectual property law, weapons control law, insurance law, environmental law, criminal law, and commercial law are all included into space law. The beginnings of space law may be traced back to 1919, when international law recognised each country’s sovereignty over the airspace directly above its territory, which was subsequently reaffirmed in 1944 by the Chicago Convention.  During the Cold War, the emergence of domestic space programmes prompted the establishment of international space policy (i.e. the International Geophysical Year) by the International council for scientific unions. The launch of Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite, by the Soviet Union in 1957 prompted the US Congress to adopt the Space Act, establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Because space exploration necessitated crossing international borders, space law developed as a separate discipline from regular aeronautical law during this period.

The basic legal frameworks for space law were all agreed upon during the Cold War, which poses a legal and governance issue in outer space.The founding treaty, the 1967 Treaty on the Principles Governing States’ Activities in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (also known as the Outer Space Treaty), was supplemented by the separate 1979 Agreement Governing States’ Activities on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (also known as the Moon Treaty)



To regulate state behaviour in space, six international treaties have been negotiated: 

  • Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, Outer Space, and Under Water, signed in 1963.
  • Treaty on Principles Governing States’ Activities in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, signed in 1967.
  • The Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts, and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space, which was signed in 1968.
  • The International Liability Convention for Damage Caused by Space Objects was established in 1972.
  • The Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space was held in 1976.
  • The Moon Treaty, signed in 1984, governs states’ activities on the Moon and other celestial bodies.
  • The Outer Space Treaty’s requirements are expanded upon in the Rescue Agreement, the Liability Convention, and the Registration Convention. Due to its limited adoption, many believe the Moon Pact to be a failed treaty.


ISS Agreement of 1998

In addition to the international treaties negotiated at the United Nations, the nations participating in the International Space Station have signed the 1998 Agreement on Cooperation on the Civil International Space Station between the governments of Canada, European Space Agency Member States, Japan, Russian Federation, and the United States.This agreement provides, among other things, that NASA is the lead agency in coordinating the member states’ contributions to and activities on the space station, and that each nation has jurisdiction over its own modules. The agreement also provides for protection of intellectual property and procedures for criminal prosecution. This agreement may very well serve as a model for future agreement.


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