Space Law

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Splashing down the International Space Station in the Pacific Ocean: Safe Disposal or Trashing the Ocean Commons?

The International Space Station (ISS) is reaching its end of life and will need to be disposed of. NASA plans to do so by de-orbiting the ISS and sinking it into a particular area of the Pacific Ocean known as Point Nemo (named after Captain Nemo, the famous character in the novel Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea). This area is the most remote place on the planet, at least in terms of its being “furthest away from any land”. However, Point Nemo and the surrounding oceanic space is also known as the “spacecraft cemetery”. Space agencies have in fact sunk “space junk” in this area since the 1970’s, through what is also known as spashdowns. Indeed, well over 260 space objects have been sunk in the area, including, notably, the Russian space station MIR. Ahead of the sinking of the MIR station, a debate ensued within the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), as I discuss in some detail in a recent book…

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To the Rescue of the Rescue Agreement

On 3 December 1968, and after half a decade of battling in negotiations, the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, entered into force. The Agreement, guided by humanitarian and scientific objectives, and which further developed article IV of the Outer Space Treaty, aimed to protect the new “envoys of mankind”, astronauts that were in distress at…

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International Law at NATO’s Brussels Summit

The June 2021 NATO summit in Brussels was noteworthy for the U.S. renewal of its commitment to the Alliance. Speaking with Secretary-General Stoltenberg, President Biden reassured NATO members (the “Allies”) that “NATO is critically important for U.S. interests” and “Article 5, we take as a sacred obligation.” Also noteworthy was the extent to which NATO…

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Space Arbitration: Could Investor-State Dispute Settlement Help Mitigate the Creation of Space Debris?

In recent years, activities in outer space have increased and diversified, thereby causing a multiplication of objects being launched into outer space. This has rendered outer space increasingly crowded and has led to a growing amount of space debris. While technological advances provide hope for cleaning up our orbits, such efforts still face regulatory and financing issues.

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Defining military activities in outer space: the launching of the Iranian satellite Nour 1

The Iranian satellite, Nour 1, operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was launched on 22 April 2020. The US Space Force (USSF) tracked Nour 1 and its final stage in orbit and added orbital tracking data and orbital parameters for two objects from the launch, the satellite and the rocket third stage, independently confirming the result…

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