Opinion on Derelicts in Space
and Space Station Jurisdiction
Date: Fri, 9 Dec 1994 11:32:54 CST
From: Joanne Gabrynowicz
Subject: Space Law
Some points of information regarding the recent space law
discussion in the group:
1. Maritime law is the fundamental conceptual basis of
international space law. The "high seas" was a natural
concpet upon which to build analogs for space. But like
all analogs, it has its limits. For example, there is no
right of salvage in space. This has political motivations
and its legal basis in in the Registration Convention
which requires launching nations to register all space
objects with the UN and in a domestic registry. The act
of registration is the legal "link". Registration, which
is also a maritime analog. The registration renders the
launching state internatioanlly responsible for the object.
2. The orignal space station intergovernmental agreement (which
took 4 years to negotiate) requires each nation to register
its own module. Therefore, each module is the functional
equivalent of territory. For example, the national patent
laws of the registering nation applies to its module. Yup,
a discovery/innovation in the US module is governed by US
law and a discovery/innovation on the Japanese module is
governed by Japanese law. If it occurs on the ESA module
it is as if it occurred in the territory of ALL ESA member
nations participating in the program. It is then up to them
to figure out which law controls.
BTW, points 1 and 2 above could refute the position someone
took that orbiting bodies are not treated legally, but more
as a whim.
3. Criminal jurisdiction on the space station: Like the patent
laws, it is national jurisdiction that exists on each module.
UNLESS the result of the criminal act endangers the wellbeing
of the station and/or crew AS A WHOLE. Then, the US has
additional jurisdiction and the responsibility to discuss
extradition-type provisions with the accused's nation.
regarding crimes committed by a national of one country on
the module of a different country, in addition to the
foregoing statement, there are conflict of law rules that
This agreement mitigates somewhat the ambassadorial status
endowed on all astronauts by the Assistance Agreement. But
that status would still be an element in a criminal
The space station agreement continues to evolve (devolve?). But
I think that some of the basics discussed above would continue
to be primary elements in any future versions of the agreement.
in addition to the OTA publication mentioned, i recommend:
"Law and Policy in the Space Stations' Era" by Andrew J. Young
published by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers
for the best all-round starting point on space law, Carl Christol's
"The International Law of Outer Space" published by Pergamon.
Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz, J.D.
Associate Professor, Space Law & Policy
Space Studies Department, Univ. of ND