The final frontier: University of Sydney introduces space law

6 June 2023
Sydney legal expert on the future of space law and regulation
It may seem like a futuristic concept or one confined to Hollywood blockbusters - but space law is becoming more important than ever. With private entities launching space flights and exploration activities, and an increasing dependence on space-based systems, laws are needed to pave the foundation for how we govern human activity in outer space. The Sydney Law School introduces a new unit which explores the policies and developments of space global governance.

Over the last decade, the global space sector has undergone significant change. We now have space tourism and privately crewed spacecraft missions, plans for private commercial space platforms in orbit and the race between China and NASA to return humans to the moon. There are future aspirational plans for human missions to Mars, commercial rocket launches by SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, commercial rovers and probes such as Rocket Lab’s ‘Venus Life Finder’ probe (due to launch in October 2023) and the placement of thousands of small communication satellites in low earth orbit led by the SpaceX Starlink project.

We are entering a new era of space exploration and exploitation, placing space policy and governance at the forefront of the international legal agenda.
Dr Rebecca Connolly, Sydney Law School

"This is huge news for the Australian space industry and will create significant commercial opportunities for the Australian launch and spaceports sector.”

Fitting in with the Sydney Law School’s strategic vision of offering an innovative, global and diverse teaching program and led by Dr Connolly, the School has launched a space law teaching and research program. Its first post-graduate law unit of study on International Space Law will commence in August.

Space activities are no longer exclusively carried out by governments. In this commercial space age, private space companies pursue their corporate initiatives alongside and in partnership with, national space agencies.

The Space Foundation estimated that the global space economy was worth US$469 billion in 2021 and this is expected to grow to US$642 billion by 2030 (with some estimates as high as US$1 trillion). The domain of ‘space’ is now more congested, competitive, and commercialised than any previous era and there is a pressing need to regulate issues.

Space is recognised as a critical military domain, and we are witnessing a race between nations for space power. Nations around the world, including Australia have established military space command units in recognition that sovereign space capabilities are essential to national security. The USA, China, and Russia are investing heavily in their space programs, as space supremacy is a powerful advantage in the modern battlefield.

“The advances in space technology have brought with it new legal challenges including, but not limited to concerns relating to space debris, the cluttering of orbits, spectrum allocations, space militarisation and weaponisation, mining of space resources, space tourism, commercialisation and space sustainability. 

“International law will be crucial in shaping the parameters of global space governance. We have a unique opportunity at this moment in time, to build upon existing international law to create purposeful multilateral agreements to address the emerging global challenges of space activities,” said Dr Connolly.

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