Law, College of


Date of this Version



Published by von der Dunk in Proceedings of the Forty-Third Colloquium on the Law of Outer Space 132-141 (2000). Copyright 2000, F.G. von der Dunk. Used by permission.


1. Introduction: the generic role of national space legislation- Prior to dealing with the specific case of Australia, and its recently established national space law, a summary overview of international space law and the generic role of national space legislation within its framework is due. This overview is for a major part summarising an analysis already undertaken in much more detail at another occasion.

2. The international legal framework for national space legislation - Articles VI and VIII. Outer Space Treaty- Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty provides that states are internationally responsible for "national activities in outer space", including cases where these activities are "carried on ( ... ) by non-governmental entities". This responsibility pertains to "assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty". Generally speaking, under Article VI states are responsible for activities undertaken in outer space in case these activities violate obligations under international space law.

3. The international legal framework for national space legislation - Article VII. Outer Space Treaty- Article VII of the Outer Space Treaty provides that states are "internationally liable for damage to another State (...) or its natural and juridical persons", if such damage is caused by relevant space objects. Which particular state or states are, respectively, to be held liable in respect of a specific space object causing damage is determined by a fourfold criterion. In a cumulative fashion this concerns the state which "launches" the space object; the state which "procures the launching" of that space object; the state ''from whose territory" the launching of that space object occurs; and the state from whose "facility" that space object is launched.

4. Space law responsibility, space law liability and national space legislation- International space law thus has established a framework for dealing with private space activities. At the same time, the choice regarding which rights and obligations should be made binding upon relevant private enterprise does not fall within the exclusive discretion of states legislating domestically either. All international space law might merit analysis here; however, one should focus on the system of implementation, rather than on enumerating rights and obligations to be implemented.

5. The Australian Space Activities Act of 1998- Australia's Parliament enacted the Space Activities Act in 1998, which was given royal assent on 21 December 1998, hence entering into force that day.8 By doing so, Australia became the sixth nation establishing proper national space legislation, i.e. national legislation (A) dealing only with space activities and (B) including as a core a licensing system for private space activities viz. entities.

5.1. The scope of the Act and its licensing system- The licensing system under the Act essentially is of a fourfold nature. A launch permit is required for any launch from Australia, as well as for the return to Australia of an Australian-launched space object. An overseas launch certificate is required for the launch by an Australian national outside Australia. An authorisation suffices for returning a space object launched outside of Australia to Australia. And finally a space license might be required for the operation of a launch facility in Australia.

5.2. The substance of the Act: reflecting space law responsibilities and liabilities- The ultimate yardstick for measuring the implementation of international space law within Australia concerns the requirements that are or may be imposed upon any licensee. Here, five categories of issues have been proposed before. As to the category of status-related issues, the Act deals prominently with the registration issue. The Minister has to keep a national register on all space objects licensed under the Act. The particulars to be included faithfully follow those contained in the Registration Convention. As referred to, the result is full application to activities undertaken with Australian-registered space objects of the jurisdiction of Australia, respectively of its licensing system.

5. Conclusion- The present analysis of the Australian Space Activities Act of 1998 of necessity is very summary, and focusing on domestic implementation of Australia's international obligations only. From this perspective, the Act may be seen as a rather elaborate national space act. It contains a substantial licensing regime, including as a relative novelty the possibility to be licensed to return space objects to Australia. Extensive provisions deal with the security and safety issues involved, as well as with the registration of space objects. Detailed provisions are given on procedural matters, such as those related to investigation of accidents and incidents and the wide-ranging and dedicated powers of the Minister viz. the Space Licensing and Safety Office (SLASO) and the Launch Safety Officer. Finally, liability is dealt with in a manner providing a seemingly fair balance between the public interests in providing for effective third party liability coverage and the honouring of Australia's international obligations, and the interests of private enterprise in a transparent licensing and liability( -reimbursement) system with workable limits included as to the requirements for compensation casu quo reimbursement.