Law in Space – by Frans von der Dunk

February 19, 2015

Author Articles, Law - Professional


As the technology to expand space travel develops and proliferates, the law of space becomes increasingly important. Professor Frans von der Dunk examines the key areas of space law and looks towards the future.


Whenever I have to explain at receptions, parties, chance encounters or even upon showing my visa upon entering the United States, that I earn my living by teaching ‘space law’, most people either start laughing or ask – with a broad grin – “OK, so tell me, who owns the Moon, then?” Often both, actually.

Or, as Rusty Schweickart of Apollo-9 fame explained in his Preface to the brand new Handbook of Space Law: “As an astronaut I never expected to be interested in, let alone involved in, space law (…). But that was back when I was the payload and not the purveyor.”

Since those early days of Sputnik and Apollo, of course, mankind has only continued to extend its presence in outer space. This has occurred to some extent by way of physical human presence in outer space, but much more so by remote controlled devices which increasingly determine our every-day life access to communication and navigation services, to national and international security, to environmental and scientific information about the Earth and a dearth of other largely invisible but increasingly crucial services and products.

And wherever man goes, whether by remote control or in person, the law must follow to shape some kind of order, predictability and even a measure of justice in the context of his activities. This is of course what space law is all about nowadays. As Schweickart wound up his Preface:

The intellectual front lines of the coming skirmishes along this new frontier will doubtless be populated by the readers of this Handbook on Space Law. (…) We are all in this together. Our future will clearly be shaped by the collective integrity of our actions as we move outward into the cosmic environment. My conviction is that the essence of insights into historic human behaviour represented in the law, applied with imagination to the present, will enable an exciting and open-ended human evolution.

Offering the most comprehensive and holistic analysis on legal and regulatory aspects of space activities and major space applications to date, this Handbook addresses the legal and regulatory aspects of activities in outer space and major space applications from a comprehensive and structured perspective, notably from that of the dichotomy between the state-oriented character of international space law and the increasing commercialization and privatization of space activities – the most fundamental paradigm-shift that took place in outer space activities ever since the space era took off.


The book therefore focuses on international space law in the broadest sense
 of the word, not only including the key space treaties and international customary (space) law, but also the many specialized regimes such as those applicable to the international satellite organizations, the International Space Station, the international trade and the security-sensitive aspects of space technology exports, the financing of space ventures and environmental concerns. The multi-faceted approach to the Handbook leads it to comprise a few main sections, which address their respective subject-matter from a few fundamentally different and cross-cutting angles.

Firstly, following a general introduction to the history and background of space law in Chapter 1, the next four Chapters address the various main fields of law and regulation from a ‘formal’ perspective: Chapter 2 international space law in a narrower sense (with an obvious focus on the UN space treaties, still the most fundamental set of legal documents pertaining to space activities), Chapter 3 national law (mainly as an instrument to implement international law vis-à-vis non-governmental entities), Chapter 4 the specific ‘legal order’ pertinent to European space activities and Chapter 5 the special context of intergovernmental organizations and their role in international space law.

Secondly, Chapter 6 addresses the main military, defence- and security-related aspects of space activities, implicating that the major focus of the legal analyses conducted elsewhere in astronauts-625540_1280the book would be on non-military, read civil and commercial uses – even as certain particular aspects of military use also are discussed by some other Chapters.

Thirdly, a set of six Chapters focuses on substantive categories of space activities and applications currently crucial from a global perspective, and analyses each of those in turn: Chapter 7 launch activities, Chapter 8 satellite communications, Chapter 9 satellite remote sensing, Chapter 10 satellite navigation, and Chapters 11 and 12 manned spaceflight – subdividing it further into public manned spaceflight and private manned spaceflight respectively.

Fourthly, Chapter 13 addresses a major aspect intersecting with all formal and substantive areas tackled before – the growing concerns about environmental effects of space activities and how to address them, which are then juxtaposed to the discussion by Chapter 14 of a major future threat to – inter alia – such environmental interests: the possibilities for, parameters for and consequences of the exploitation of celestial resources. Other similarly cross-cutting analyses follow, largely focusing on the commercial and private aspects of space activities: Chapter 15 on the international trade aspects thereof, Chapter 16 on the financing of space ventures, Chapter 17 on insurance aspects and Chapter 18 on intellectual property rights.

Fifthly and finally, the procedural subject of dispute settlement in the context of space activities and their major applications is addressed by Chapter 19 – as a conceptually logical capstone of the overarching legal analysis also considerably looking into the future: what are the possibilities in the legal realm to ad781000359dress disputes which may arise in any of the above legal and regulatory regimes or sectors?

This book thus presents a unique standard work of reference for anyone interested in studying or researching the legal and regulatory aspects of space activities and their major applications in any depth. This ranges from graduate and post-graduate students in international law and space law in particular through researchers and law professors in the field up to practitioners in the various relevant sectors of mankind’s space endeavours who want to obtain a satellite view of what constitutes one of the most exciting and most rapidly developing areas of law, nationally and internationally.


frans Frans Von der Dunk is the Othmer Professor of Space Law at the University of Nebraska.  Hewas awarded the Distinguished Service Award of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) in Vancouver, in October 2004, and the Social Science Award of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) in Valencia, in October 2006. In the summer of 2008, he was nominated, as the first lawyer ever, Member of the European Space Sciences Committee (ESSC) of the European Space Foundation (ESF). Also, he was the sole lawyer on the Panel on Asteroid Threat Mitigation established by the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) in 2007.  His new book The Handbook of Space Law is published by Edward Elgar.

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