Law, College of


Date of this Version



Published Creighton Law Review (2008-2009) 42: 397-445. Copyright 2009, Creighton University School of Law. Used by permission.


Outer space is no longer the exclusive domain of the two Cold War superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. In fact, many states now understand the potential benefits that outer space activities can bring and have become active in outer space activities in their own ways. Amongst the major players in outer space, specifically the area of satellite earth observation, one area stands out: Europe. Europe is not a single state, such as the United States, Russia, Japan, China, India, or Brazil; rather, Europe is comprised of a number of sovereign member states. The term Europe as used in the previous sentence usually refers to some institutional version of Europe, not to the geographically defined continent.' Europe as an institution, moreover, is not even the complete picture because there are several versions of Europe which are of importance when it comes to space activities generally or to the more specific sector of satellite earth observation and downstream distribution of data resulting from satellite earth observation.

Vice versa, satellite earth observation is also a major issue for Europe whether it concerns the use of satellites for ecological and climate monitoring purposes, for commercial or other economic purposes, or even for security-oriented applications. Indeed, as will be seen, a number of laws and regulations addressing satellite earth observation have been drafted in Europe during the last few decades as a consequence of certain policies or policy approaches. Additionally, these policies or policy approaches then affect new policies or new policy approaches. In particular, the aforementioned policies or policy approaches make certain options less interesting, less feasible, or even plainly illegal. Furthermore, as will be addressed infra in this Article, within such policies and legal regimes, actual space projects and programs are developed, agreed upon, financed, and executed.

This Article represents an effort to analyze, or at least map, some of the consequences of the rather complicated European spacescape on the development of law, regulations, and policies in the area of satellite earth observation. Further, this Article will examine some distinct results of laws, regulations, and policies which are concerned with satellite earth observation. Specifically, this Article will examine satellite earth observation-related projects and programs that try to project some European presence in outer space. One of those projects and programs is the Global Monitoring for Environmental Security project which has recently been renamed Kopernikus; Kopernikus serves in several respects as the standard bearer for European involvement in satellite earth observation in the service of various terrestrial applications for the years to come.

From the perspective of earth observation by means of satellites, observers may discern no less than three Europes in space that are of major importance: the European Space Agency ("ESA"), the European Meteorological Satellite Organisation ("EUMETSAT"), and the European Union ("EU")/European Community ("EC"). The ESA, EUMETSAT, and EU/EC each play roles, sometimes in cooperation with each other, in shaping the laws and policies, and in developing and executing the projects and programs, that try to maximize the benefits that satellite earth observation can bring to Europe. However, as this Article shall establish, analysis should not neglect the individual member states of the ESA, EUMETSAT, and EU/EC or the important fact that the memberships of these three organizations are far from identical.