20 December 2017

COPUOS

Agenda Item: Improving the International Legislation on the Commercial Uses of Outer Space

Under Secretary-General: Duygu Çınar

Academic Assistants to the Committee: Cengizhan Gergef, Edanaz Aksoy

Humankind’s first encounter with the unknown, the place we would call space, occurred with the launch of the satellite Sputnik in 1957. Despite our relatively short history with the area beyond our atmosphere, outer space; that history has been fruitful. For decades, states have been the main actors in activities in the outer space, with the particular domination of the United States of America and the Russian Federation; or the country once known as the Soviet Union. The initial issue that the international community had the deal with in regards to outer space was the competition between those aforementioned countries particularly in the military area. Hence the basis of the international space law was founded according to the needs of the era with the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. The Outer Space Treaty’s primary goal was the peaceful uses of space, in hopes to end the “Space Race” of the Cold War. The treaty mainly focused on the actions of states, whose main actions consisted on the militarization of space. The complementary international space laws revolved around the Outer Space Treaty, following similar principles.

Starting from the late 20th century, commercial of uses of outer space was becoming more prominent with the launch of the first commercial satellites. In fact, currently the 76 percent of the space market is dedicated to the commercial sector. Furthermore, an increasing number of actors started conducting outer space activities, including the private actors. These abovementioned factors increase the complexity of the regulation of outer space activities by the international space law, since it mainly focuses on states and the laws concerning the private actors and the commercial uses of outer space are vague. This increases the possibility of future conflicts due to various potential commercial space activities such as but not limited to: space exploitation & mining of natural resources, space tourism and private exploration & research missions. Such activities of the private firms are regulated by the state they operate in, despite the fact that the activities are not conducted by the state itself. This puts more pressure on the states since they would have the burden to bear responsibility of the actions of those private actors in case of a wrongdoing. Furthermore, the currently existing international space law is open to interpretation by the states because of its vagueness. As a result, two firms operating in space could be subject to different regulations as laid by the different interpretations of different states.

Humankind has a lot to gain from the further exploration and utilization of space. In today’s world most of these actions are commercial and concern private actors; hence the international regulations regarding those should be improved. Otherwise those activities could be hindered, contrary to the “freedom of exploration” principle laid down in the Article I of the Outer Space Treaty. Space law was created after the problem had already appeared, since militarization of outer space was unprecedented. However, concerning the commercial activities the international community has the chance to be one step of the game and prevent collision in regulations even before they occur, which could be in a not so distant future.