Existing space law exempts businesses from liabilities worth billions

UK lawyers have reportedly claimed that existing space regulations are inadvertently granting private companies immunity from the legal repercussion of damages caused by their decommissioned tech that is stuck in the earth’s orbit, called space debris.

Akshay Sewlikar, a managing associate at London-based law firm, Linklaters, stated that the responsibility of collisions in outer space remains with the spacecraft operator’s launching scenario, leaving private players out of the matter.

Sewlikar argued that, given the growing proliferation of private enterprises in space, countries need to codify the liability of these private firms to effectively ensure coherence at a global level.

Existing space regulations were drafted and implemented in the 1970s and 1980s, when all of the world’s space agencies were state-owned. The entry of private entities in the space are adequate grounds for modifications to the law.

However, it is also often difficult to correctly identify the country associated with the launch of particular debris, which consequently means that governments too can sidestep the responsibility of potential damages worth billions.

This comes after NASA announced its plans to launch its newest billion-dollar telescope into space through Elon Musk’s Space X for $255 million (£212.6 million).

Recently, the Musk’s space venture has come under severe criticism, including from the European Space Agency, for the rate at which it has been launching satellites into orbit, contributing to space debris, a crucial issue that plagues the industry today.

Rachael O’Grady, a partner at, Mayor Brown International, an international arbitration practice, cited an instance from 2016, where a window of the ISS was smashed by a small speck of paint, pointing out how small objects have the ability to cause immense damage in space due to the speed at which they travel.

Now, if the new telescope gets struck by unrecognized space debris, the billion dollar question of who would be responsible and who would pay for damages remains answerless.

However, if it were possible to determine the owner of the space debris, then there would be two candidates involved in the payment of the bill, the country whose nationals were involved in the launching of the object, and the country from which the object was launched, only if they are different, added O’Grady.

This issue can  become a recurring challenge for the industry if it is not resolved now, which, in turn, can hamper mankind’s exploration of outer space over the coming years.

Source credit: https://www.cityam.com/current-space-regulations-leave-businesses-immune-to-liabilities-worth-billions/

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