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The Evolution of Space Law: Regulating Commercial Space Activities and Lunar Colonization


The realm of space exploration has witnessed an unprecedented transformation in recent years, marked by the emergence of commercial space activities and the ambitious goal of lunar colonization. As humanity expands its footprint beyond Earth, the legal and regulatory framework governing space operations has evolved to meet the new challenges posed by these developments. This evolution of space law is not only essential for ensuring the responsible and peaceful use of outer space but also for addressing the unique legal considerations associated with the commercialization of space and the prospect of human settlements on the Moon. This introduction sets the stage for a deeper exploration of how space law has adapted to accommodate commercial ventures and lunar colonization while maintaining the principles of international cooperation and sustainability in the final frontier.

Origin of Space Laws:

The inception of space law can be traced back to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who first introduced the concept of space laws at the United Nations in 1957, particularly in the context of disarmament negotiations. The United States and the Soviet Union both made significant strides in shaping international space policy during this period. This international space policy was instrumental in safeguarding the sovereignty of individual nations, preventing any single nation from making territorial claims in outer space. This principle was rooted in the tenets of international law, which recognized the sovereignty of all countries as a means to preserve global peace and harmony. A notable milestone in this era was the Soviet Union's successful launch of the world's inaugural artificial satellite, known as "Sputnik," in 1957.


Laws Governing Space law at National and International Level:

National Level:

India's space industry has been predominantly influenced by substantial investments from foreign nations. The sector has been subject to meticulous oversight and management by prominent individuals throughout its history, including direct involvement by the Prime Minister's office.

The laws governing space in India are as follows:

i.               A Policy framework for Satellite Communications in India- The policy outlined the advancement of satellite communication, bolstering launch capabilities, and promoting private investment in the space industry. However, the government swiftly recognized the inadequacy of this policy and subsequently established the regulations, directives, and processes governing the SATCOM policy.

ii.             Norms, Guidelines and Procedure (SATCOM) Policy,2000- The norms laid the procedures to be followed for setting up the satellites system by private Indian companies having less than 74 per cent foreign equity.

iii.            Remote Data Sensing Policy,2011- The government permitted the unrestricted distribution of high-resolution imaging services, with resolutions of up to 1 meter, to be made available for private use upon request, ensuring equal access without discrimination. However, sensitive imagery data concerning vital defence installations in the nation was excluded from this provision.

iv.            The Technology Transfer Policy of ISRO- ISRO's technology transfer policy seeks to boost private involvement and investment in the space sector by delegating the manufacturing of various space-related components, such as satellite parts, space radars, rocket engines to both national and international companies.

v.              Draft Space Activities Bill,2017- A legal structure for space activities has been a longstanding necessity, not solely due to the emergence of the private sector but also because the private sector plays a crucial role in fostering development and innovation. Sustainable progress cannot be achieved without proper legal protections in place. Consequently, a bill was formulated in 2017 and remains under consideration by the parliament. This proposed bill aims to facilitate and govern India's space endeavours, with a particular emphasis on encouraging private sector entities to engage in space activities within India, subject to the oversight and approval of the government's Department of Space.

International Level:

Space law can be described as the legal framework that regulates activities and exploration related to outer space. International laws pertaining to outer space are established through five instruments, which have been adopted under the United Nations (UN) and its General Assembly's Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). The UNCOPUOS has played a leading role in the development of international space law.

i.               The Outer Space Treaty,1967- This treaty deals with the outer space and exploration of the outer space

ii.             The Rescue Agreement, 1968- This treaty delas with the rescue agreement, which talks about the safe return of astronauts and the objective which are sent to space for research.

iii.            The Liability Convention 1972- this convention talks about the damage that is caused by space object.

iv.            The Registration Convention, 1975- This convention covers the registration of object in outer space

v.              The Moon treaty of 1979- This treaty deals with the activities happing on the moon and other celestial bodies.

Are We Going to Colonize the Moon?

Several nations and institutions have initiated efforts aimed at establishing a presence on the Moon. NASA's Artemis program, with the goal of landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024, is projected to incur expenses of approximately $95 billion by 2025. NASA has also proposed the creation of a lunar Gateway, a compact space station orbiting the Moon that would serve as a launch point for forthcoming missions. Private enterprises like SpaceX and Blue Origin have also revealed their intentions to dispatch missions to the Moon and create enduring settlements. SpaceX's Starship spacecraft, designed for reusability, has the capacity to transport up to 100 individuals to the Moon and destinations beyond. Conversely, Blue Origin's Blue Moon lunar lander is intended to transport cargo and, eventually, humans to the lunar surface. The endeavour of lunar colonization is an exciting yet formidable undertaking, necessitating thorough planning, research, and technological advancement to transform it into a reality. Nevertheless, with the strides made in space exploration and the escalating interest from both private and government entities, the feasibility of this vision is progressively on the rise.

Do We Need Property Rights for Outer Space:

In the foreseeable future, private entities will likely commence the utilization of resources and establishment of habitats in outer space. In the initial stages, such endeavours will carry inherent risks and substantial costs. The current international legal framework offers minimal protection and offers little encouragement for investments in outer space. The implementation of a system of property rights that would introduce a degree of legal assurance and incentive for private ventures. The notion of property rights in this context is closely linked to the authority exercised by nation-states over specific territories. Although the 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits the establishment of territorial sovereignty by states, it permits and, in certain cases, even mandates that states exercise jurisdiction over space objects and personnel. In coming future one or the other super power is going to dominate the outer space and set laws to regulate it.

The Way Forward:

Currently, India lacks specific legislation in the realm of space law, and there is a pressing need for the development of comprehensive space legislation tailored to the country's requirements. India is a progressive nation with a vision to further privatize and commercialize space assets, expand its capabilities in space exploration, and advance scientific discoveries. To achieve these goals, it is imperative for the government to recognize that an overly stringent and opaque regulatory framework could stifle the growth of the private sector. Therefore, corrective measures are essential in this regard.

legislation governing space would play a pivotal role in fostering greater private sector involvement in transnational, bilateral, and multilateral space affairs. It would provide clarity regarding the government's objectives in outer space-related matters and empower the burgeoning private space industry. Moreover, it would serve as a crucial tool in assessing India's liability in cases of aircraft mission damage or earth crashes, making the need for national space legislation imminent. Transparency and clarity would be fundamental principles guiding the development of India's national space law, ensuring profitable outcomes from the space sector. This legislation should address legal aspects related to launch services, satellite communications (including satellite broadcasting), earth observation services, data processing, satellite navigational systems, intellectual property rights, India's liability concerning other nations and private entities, dispute resolution, and the management of the crowded geostationary orbit.


The evolution of space law in the context of regulating commercial space activities and lunar colonization underscores the critical need for a dynamic and adaptable legal framework that balances the aspirations of exploration and commercialization with the imperatives of responsibility and cooperation in the vast expanse of outer space. As commercial entities increasingly participate in space ventures, it becomes imperative for nations and international organizations to establish clear regulations that promote safety, environmental sustainability, and equitable resource utilization.

The balance between fostering innovation and safeguarding against potential harm to the space environment and other stakeholders remains an ongoing challenge, requiring continuous legal evolution. The prospect of lunar colonization, while still in its nascent stages, necessitates comprehensive legal considerations concerning property rights, governance, and cooperation. Space law, as it develops, must ensure that lunar settlements adhere to the principles of international law and uphold human rights.

Author: Tejaswini Pathave

University and Year: Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai/ 4th Year student

Programme: B.A LLB


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