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International Space Law: Treaties & Agreements

Links and discussion on the laws of space use and exploration.

Overview

The United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) is the principal UN office responsible for leveraging the benefits of outer space globally.  It operates within the Department of Political Affairs.  UNOOSA was initially created to service the needs of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) that was established in 1959.  COPUOS and continues to meet annually to discuss questions relating to current and future activities in space.  Issues relating to the militarization of outer space are dealt with by the U.N. Conference on Disarmament.

The Space Treaties and related international instruments are conveniently available in a U.N. Compendium and are also available in their original form from the UNOOSA website > Space Law > Treaties and Principles

UNOOSA organizes and works with nation states and space agencies (for example, NASA and the ESA) drafting legislation and guidelines for the safe and sustainable use of outer space.

The Five Outer Space Treaties

There are five primary treaties that govern the international use and exploration of outer space. They include:

The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, Jan. 27, 1967, 18 U.S.T. 2410, 610 U.N.T.S. 205  Known as the Outer Space Treaty and often referred to as the Magna Carter of Space Law.  the Outer Space Treaty provides the basic framework of international space law.  This treaty entered into force on "Outer Space Treaty on October 10, 1967 and ratified by the United States.

Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space,  Apr. 22, 1968, 19 U.S.T. 7570, 672 U.N.T.S. 119.  The Rescue Agreement entered into force on December 3, 1968 and was ratified by the United States.  It elaborates on Articles V and VIII of the Outer Space Treaty.

Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, Mar. 29, 1972, 24 U.S.T. 2389, 961 U.N.T.S. 187.  The Liability Convention entered into force on September 1, 1972 and was ratified by the United States.  It elaborates on Article VII of the Outer Space Treaty.

Convention on the Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space, Jan. 14, 1975, 28 U.S.T. 695, 1023 U.N.T.S. 15.  The Registration Convention entered into force on September 15, 1976 and was ratified by the United States.  It reinforces the idea of due regard for other States' interests as provided in Article I of the Outer Space Treaty.

Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, Dec. 18, 1979, 1363 U.N.T.S. 3.  The Moon Agreement the Moon Agreement reaffirms and elaborates on many of the provisions in the Outer Space Treaty; however, it is not widely adopted.  The Moon Agreement entered into force on July 11, 1984.  The United States is not a signatory, nor has it ratified this Agreement.

 

General International Treaties and Agreements Affecting Space Law