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Legal Issues Pertaining to Space Tourism and It’s Future in India

Info: 4718 words (19 pages) Essay
Published: 23rd Jul 2019

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Jurisdiction / Tag(s): International LawIndian law

Space tourism has been identified as “any commercial activity offering customers direct or indirect experience with space travel.” [3] The official definition of tourism presented by the World Tourist Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Statistical Committee in 1994 reads: “The activities of persons travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure …” [4] Tourism, hence, requires the accessibility of three distinct elements:(1) a flexible income available for leisure travel; (2) abundant leisure time to expend on both arrangements for and taking the trips themselves; and (3) an infrastructure sustaining tourism that offers lodging, food and amenities, transportation systems, and attractions to see and do at the site visited. [5]

The above definition of space tourism includes “indirect experience,” which refers to activities such as parabolic flights for the sake of enjoying a few seconds of weightlessness. However while these flights come close to the edge of outer space, they never enter outer space. [6] Thus, from most angles indirect experiences such as parabolic flights do not legally encompass issues of space law.

Space tourism refers to the reason for private individuals to undertake the activity: the wish to enjoy space travel is not altogether a legally-decisive criterion. For instance, “typical” aircraft will carry both tourists (persons taking a flight because they love flying or want to spend their holidays away far from home) as well as passengers who merely need to go to another place for business reasons. Yet, legally speaking, all passengers on such a flight are equal in terms of aviation law – whether it concerns contractual liability, consumer rights, or the need to bring a valid passport.

Furthermore, it should be pointed out that Mr. Will Whitehorn, the CEO of Virgin Galactic (the company most likely to first start offering sub-orbital flights to tourists), has stated that the ultimate purpose of private spaceflight activity is not to undertake tourism, but to demonstrate the safety of the technology used. [7]

It is submitted, therefore, that “private spaceflight” is the more precise and more helpful term for the purpose of legal analysis. The level of private participation in these new types of space activities requires analysis and, likely, adaptation of the current legal environment for undertaking space activities, whether national or international.

Development of Outer Space Law

1. United Nations Outer Space Committees and Agencies

In 1958, the U.N. formed the United Nations Ad Hoc Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) to address all possible legal insinuations of outer space activities. [8] COPUOS  became a permanent U.N. body in 1959 and at present has more than sixty-five member states. In addition to the creation of COPUOS, the U.N. established a procedure intended to aid the international negotiation of U.N. space treaties and agreements. COPUOS enables the U.N. to serve as the primary body for the growth of outer space law and provides a platform for international scholars to build a legal skeleton for outer space activities. Two subcommittees comprise COPUOS, the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee (STS) and the Legal Subcommittee (LS). STS and LS perform outer space research and study international legal questions concerning space exploration.

The U.N. established the Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA) in 1962 to appendage COPUOS. OOSA, initially a sub division within the U.N. Department of Political and Security Council Affairs, is presently a bureau within the Department for Political Affairs. OOSA implements the COPUOS and U.N. General Assembly resolutions, facilitates developing countries in using outer space expertise for developmental purposes, and supports the decisions of COPUOS, LS, and STS. OOSA launched an international space information service to aid in providing technical information to member states, U.N. offices, and international organizations.

2. United Nations Outer Space Conferences

Since 1968, the U.N. has been a host to global conferences endorsing international deliberations about the utilization of outer space. [9] The first Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in 1968 examined past progress in outer space expertise, resulting in a demand by several nations for a raise in international assistance. [10] The opening conference led to the 1971 formation of the Space Applications Programme, now put into practice by OOSA. [11] The Space Applications Programme hosts courses designed to enlighten and tutor nations in the use of technology in outer space.

The second conference in 1982, UNISPACE 82, reassessed broad space activities and highlighted on the role of developing nations during a time of increased advancements in outer space technology. [12] UNISPACE 82 supported developing nations in receiving assistance from technically superior countries regarding the utilization of outer space for promoting their own nation and population. [13] Prior to UNISPACE 82, these developing nations had no past contribution in the opportunities available in outer space, even on the most primary stage. [14] While attending UNISPACE 82 and in the years subsequent to the conference, representatives from some of the poorest nations, such as Sri Lanka and Honduras, received significant technological support and execution aid from the advanced countries. [15] Direct assistance and tutoring on outer space enabled Sri Lanka to establish its own telescope facility in 1996 and assisted Honduras in creating a Central American observatory in 1997. [16] After UNISPACE 82, the Space Applications Programme workshops and training courses offered developing nations with the methodology and means to implement space projects within their home territories. [17]

As innovations in space technology continued globally, the U.N. hosted a third conference, UNISPACE III, in July 1999. [18] In preparation for UNISPACE III, OOSA synchronized several worldwide regional conferences during 1998 and 1999. [19] The conferences called for collaborated efforts among nations within four hosting regions: Asia and the Pacific, Africa and the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Latin America and the Caribbean. [20] These collaborations resulted in nations integrating their assets and knowledge to develop viable and technological outer space curriculum. [21] The intention of UNISPACE III was to kick off an action plan endorsing peaceful uses of outer space for the next decade. [22] After a comprehensive drafting stage and ongoing debate among nations, participants of UNISPACE III adopted the Vienna Declaration on Space and Human Development. [23] The Vienna Declaration presented guidelines for the U.N.’s actions and focused on supplementing the developing nations with their use of outer space technology. [24]

3. United Nations Outer Space Treaties

Since the adoption of the U.N.’s first space treaty in the 1960s, a firm foundation of general laws and international regulations relating to space activity remains in effect. [25] Unlike the international law-making community’s reply to other subsections of international law, such as international criminal law, guidelines and international rules regarding outer space exploration and the presence of humans in space surfaced promptly after the start of space travel and research. [26] The U.N. utilized previously-established international regulations, such as the Antarctic Treaty, as models for developing outer space law. [27] The U.N. further relied on traditional international legal principles, which endowed a foundation for the key outer space legal issues of appropriation and the common interests of mankind. [28]

3.1 Outer Space Treaty 1967

The early work of COPUOS effected in the 1963 Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space (Declaration of Legal Principles) which formed the foundation of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. [29] The Outer Space Treaty was the first of the U.N.’s five international treaties expressing various phases of space law. [30] The U.N. sketched the Outer Space Treaty with the general objective of purging any sovereignty claims over outer space and celestial bodies. [31] This treaty was the first of its kind to regulate space activities and exploration by humans. [32]

Article I of the Outer Space Treaty declares outer space must be used to advantage all nations and may not be dominated by individual countries or organizations. [33] Article I specifies the exploration and use of outer space should be free of prejudice and adhere to principles of international law. [34] The Treaty encourages international collaboration in order to promote scientific research in outer space and on celestial bodies. [35]

Article II of the Outer Space Treaty declares that outer space, as well as celestial bodies and the moon, is free from any manner of national appropriation. [36] While nations retain jurisdiction over their citizens and matter that enters the sphere of outer space, nations are not permitted to aver national sovereignty over portions of outer space. [37] The Outer Space Treaty provides nations with the right to access, explore, and use outer space without making any claims of territorial sovereignty. [38] The treaty hence eradicates the possibility nations could appropriate portions of the moon and the celestial bodies. [39]

In spite of the prohibition of exercising national sovereignty, the Outer Space Treaty allows nations’ control and jurisdiction over objects and personnel while such entities are on a celestial body or in outer space. [40] Although nations retain jurisdiction over their space vessels and personnel while in outer space, nations do not have the right to use their objects or space vessels in a way that denies other nations access to the celestial bodies, described as the “province of mankind.” [41] Article VII establishes the concept that states are internationally liable for any damage caused by their objects or personnel while in space. [42] The Outer Space Treaty also tackles the importance of cooperation among nations and the U.N. with regard to research and outer space trips. [43]

3.2 Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts 1968, and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (Rescue Agreement)

The U.N. approved the Rescue Agreement in December 1968. [44] The Rescue Agreement draws the procedures for conducting astronaut rescues during times of anguish in outer space. [45] Article V of the Outer Space Treaty describes astronauts as “envoys of mankind in outer space,” which is expanded upon in the Rescue Agreement to incorporate data on accidents and emergencies in outer space. [46] The Rescue Agreement commands nations to perform rescue duties for other nations experiencing problems while in outer space, and also requires the return of astronauts and equipment to that nation. [47]

3.3 Convention on the International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (Liability Convention) 1972

In 1972, the Liability Convention articulated liability terms for states launching objects into outer space. [48] The Liability Convention explicitly outlines liability relating to objects in outer space, covering the object and its parts. [49] Article I of the convention defines “damage” to adequately answer the question of liability and injury between the states involved. [50] “Damage” in outer space includes death and personal injury, as well as destruction of a state’s property. [51] Nation-parties to the Liability Convention that suffer “damage” under the terms of the convention may present claims for compensation to the state that launched the damaging object, or through other diplomatic methods as provided in Article VIII. [52]

3.4 Convention on the Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (Registration Convention) 1976

The 1976 Registration Convention mandates that each nation-party to the convention register and maintain a registry of its launched space objects. [53] If an object is launched by more than one nation, the participating states must settle which nation will register that object. [54] In a situation of multiple launching states, the Liability Convention says that joint liability may exist. [55] In addition to keeping a registry, a state must provide the United Nations Secretary-General information attesting the establishment of a registry. [56] The requirements under the Registration Convention smooth the progress of the process by which the U.N. and states identify a space object that has caused damage to a celestial body or another object in space. [57]

3.5 Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies 1979

The Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, or Moon Agreement of 1979 complements the Outer Space Treaty by providing cultured statements of the principles first suggested in the 1967 treaty. The Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, or Moon Agreement, is an international treaty that turns jurisdiction of all heavenly bodies (including the orbits around such bodies) over to the international community. Thus, all activities must conform to international law (notably this includes the UN Charter).

In practice, it is a failed treaty since it has not been ratified by any nation which engages in self-launched manned space exploration or has plans to do so (e.g. the United States, Russian Federation, People’s Republic of China, Japan, India, and Iran) since its creation in 1979, and thus has a negligible effect on actual spaceflight.

The treaty makes a declaration that the Moon (which the treaty notes includes all celestial bodies for the purposes of language) should be used for the benefit of all states and all peoples of the international community. It also expresses a desire to prevent the Moon from becoming a source of international conflict. To those ends the treaty:

Bans any military use of celestial bodies, including weapon testing or as military bases.

Bans all exploration and uses of celestial bodies without the approval or benefit of other states.

Requires that the Secretary-General must be notified of all celestial activities (and discoveries developed thanks to those activities).

Declares all states have an equal right to conduct research on celestial bodies.

Declares that for any samples obtained during research activities, the state that obtained them must consider making part of it available to all countries/scientific communities for research.

Bans altering the environment of celestial bodies and requires that states must take measures to prevent accidental contamination.

Bans any state from claiming sovereignty over any territory of celestial bodies.

Bans any ownership of any extraterrestrial property by any organization or person, unless that organization is international and governmental.

Requires all resource extraction and allocation be made by an international regime.

The treaty was finalized in 1979 and entered into force for the ratifying parties in 1984. As a follow-on to the Outer Space Treaty, the Moon Treaty intended to establish a regime for the use of the Moon and other celestial bodies similar to the one established for the sea floor in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

As of December 19, 2008, only 13 states; Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, and Uruguay, have ratified it. France, Guatemala, India and Romania have signed but have not ratified it. [58] As it is unratified by any major space-faring powers and unsigned by most of them, it is of no direct relevance to current space activities.

Space Tourism in India and It’s prospect relating to growth.

Recently India has been hit by a space tourism buzz when British entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic opened its office in New Delhi, after brisk worldwide sales for passenger flights to space circ 2010. [59]

Virgin Galactic, a global commercial space tourism group, has entered the Indian market with an eye on wooing Indians into space – albeit at a fee of $200,000. [60]

It has been decided that the spaceship will be launched at a height 50,000 feet above earth and, on release from the mother ship, will take a vertical trajectory at three times the speed of sound.

Carolyn Wincer, head of astronaut sales of Virgin Galactic, told reporters that nearly 300 people, including four Indians, have bought tickets to travel on the spaceship.

According to him India is a growing market and we are hopeful that people who are not astronauts will venture into space via our commercial spaceships.

Four Indians have already booked their tickets and one of them is in the top 100 list. The Spaceship 2, as the commercial flight has been named, was supposed to be ready for the test run on or before January 2008.

It was expected that it would take near about 18 months to start commercial operation. Wincer added that initially the Initially the spaceship will fly once a week, taking six tourists on board. In the second year of operation we may go for two flights a day.

The mother ship carrying the spaceship is suppose to fly to a height of 50,000 feet and then the rocket will be switched on. In 90 seconds, the flight will reach a height of 110 km from 50,000 feet (16 km).

It is said that the flight will last approximately two hours, including a period of weightlessness.

People with a healthy heart and lungs will be able to go on this voyage. Authorities explained that since these are short duration flights, tourists would not face space sickness. [61]


The option of space tourism really looks lucrative but how far it could be implemented in India without body of Rules and Laws in force is a question. No doubt that it’s one of the most lucrative and heavily money rising prospect. But its viability has to be analyzed from various point of views. For example, whether it accords with the principles of sustainable development or not. The issue with regard to right to sovereignty of orbital space. Etc. Simultaneously it also had to be seen what kind of labor with what kind of sills are need to run this industry. What is the possible risk that they can imbibe. That whether the industrialists are making any kind of provision for risk minimization and compensation or not and how it could be implemented. The establishment of this industry would invite inclusions in the present tax structure as well. Also, at the same time new regulation has to be bought with regard to the maintenance of the industrial machines.

Various Indian ministries have to come up with new schemes and arrange for resources in order to support this industry our country. Since this industry would involve a large amount of hi-fy technological machineries, it’s need less to say that over a period of time it would convert into one of the most expensive industry consuming a lot of state resources amenities. Therefore it also has to be seen that what percentage of Indians with there disposable income can actually afford the luxury of space tourism. It also has to analyzed that how competitive would this industry grow in comparison to the land tourism industries. Since this option is highly fascinating it has to be seen that whether it could dominate the tourism market in such a manner that it gives the land tourism industry a heavy loss. Therefore regulations are need on this front also, predominantly when India’s constitutional ideology is motivated by the concept of social welfare.

However, extending good wishes to Virgin Galactic, Aviation Minister Praful Patel said: “I am sure with disposable income increasing among Indians, many will go to space. The adventurous spirit of Indians will get a further boost by venturing into space via commercial spaceships”.

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