Date of this Version
Chapter 8 in Small Satellites: Regulatory Challenges and Chances, Irmgard Marboe (editor), Leiden: Brill, 2016, pp. 154–173.
Small satellites have become a welcome addition to the existing tools to benefit from space applications—they are relatively simple and cheap to construct, and being small, relatively cheap to launch as well, as secondary payloads on launch vehicles where the primary payload may not take up all of the (often standardized) payload bay capacity. As they, moreover, usually orbit for relatively short times in low trajectories before burning up in the atmosphere, they might not seem to pose major or even merely realistic liability risks.
As a consequence, sometimes the issue of liability for damage caused by small satellites has been treated as a non-issue, or at least as an issue which in law does not present relevant novel aspects and in practice is by far not the most important issue in the area of liability (or vice versa in the area of small satellites). Since, however, the amount of small satellites in view of their attractiveness as indicated is rapidly growing, this quick assumption might warrant a closer look. Thus, the current chapter briefly analyzes the extent to which small satellites may or might give rise to specific legal issues in the context of liability for space activities, and whether it would indeed be a non-issue.