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Space Law

The following is a brief, summarized version of many of the relevant US Codes with respect to entrepreneurial, private sector space activities.  Notwithstanding some inherent contradictions and some really big time, astronomically large, questions about jurisdiction, these laws have the inevitable flaw of making certain basic assumptions about the technology which might be used to achieve space flight.  These Codes might make a certain amount of sense if one assumed that access to space is only by the NASA technique of placing payloads on the top of nothing more than a rapid series of massive explosions emanating in hopefully one direction (i.e.down).  The Codes, however, do NOT make sense if one has any faith in the advancement of technology.  In fact if there had been a comparable set of Codes in effect during the time of Lindbergh, it is unlikely there would be an aviation industry today, or that it would have accomplished anything.


Select US Justice Codes Regulating Space Access  


Chapter 701 -- Commercial Space Launch Activities  

70101.  Findings and Purpose

            (a)  Findings  -- Congress finds that--

                        (1)  The peaceful uses of outer space continue to be of great value and to offer other benefits to all mankind;  

{NOTE:  The United States is a signatory to several United Nations and international treaties which mandate the peaceful use of outer space.  These include: a multilateral space laboratory cooperative program (e.g. in the use of the space shuttle), a multilateral international liability for damage caused by space objects, registration of objects launched into outer space, space station agreements, rescue and return of astronauts and objects launched into outer space, and activities of States in the exploration and use of outer space including the moon and other celestial bodies.


Notably, these treaties include references to private sector activities such as:  “The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the State concerned”, as well as, “The State on whose registry an object launched into outer space is carried shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object, and any personnel thereon while in outer space.  Ownership of objects launched into outer space and of their component parts is not affected by their passage through outer space or by their return to the earth.”


Accordingly, much of the US Code is the result of international treaties -- which by and large supersede the US Constitution and any rights or privileges of citizens of the United States -- in case you were wondering!}

                        (2)  private applications of space technology have achieved a significant level of commercial and economic activity and offer the potential for growth in the future, particularly in the United States;

                        (3)  new and innovative equipment and services are being sought, produced and offered by entrepreneurs in telecommunications, information services, and remote sensing technologies;

                        (4)  the private sector in the United States has the capability of developing and providing private satellite launching and associated services that would complement the launching and associated services now available from the United States Government;

                        (5)  the development of commercial launch vehicles and associated services would enable the United States to retain its competitive position internationally, contributing to the national interest and economic well-being of the United States;

                        (6)  providing launch services by the private sector is consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and would be facilitated by stable, minimal, and appropriate regulatory guidelines that are fairly and expeditiously applied;

                        (7)  the United States should encourage private sector launches and associated services and, only to the extent necessary, regulate those launches and services to ensure compliance with international obligations of the United States and to protect the public health and safety, safety of property, and national security and foreign policy interests of the United States;

                        (8)  space transportation, including the establishment and operation of launch sites and complementary facilities, the providing of launch services, the establish-ment of support facilities, and the providing of support services, is an important element of the transportation system of the United States, and in connection with the commerce of the United States there is a need to develop a strong space transportation infrastructure with significant private sector involvement; and

                        (9)  the participation of State governments in encouraging and facilitating private sector involvement in space-related activity, particularly through the establishment of a space transportation-related infrastructure, including launch sites, complementary facilities, and launch site support facilities, is in the national interest and is of significant public benefit.

            (b)  Purposes -- The purposes of this chapter are--

                                (1)  to promote economic growth and entrepreneurial activity through use of the space environment for peaceful purposes;

                        (2)  to encourage the United States private sector to provide launch vehicles and associated services by--

                                    (A)  simplifying and expediting the issuance and transfer of commercial launch licenses; and

                                    (B)  facilitating and encouraging the use of government developed space technology;

                        (3)  to provide that the Secretary of Transportation is to oversee and coordinate the conduct of commercial launch operations, issue and transfer commercial launch licenses authorizing those operations, and protect the public health and safety, safety of property, and national security and foreign policy interests of the United States;

                        (4)  to facilitate the strengthening and expansion of the United States space transportation infrastructure, including the enhancement of United States launch sites and launch-site support facilities, with Government, State, and private sector involvement, to support the full range of United States space-related activities.

{NOTE:  Thus far, it looks pretty good for the entrepreneurial spirit.  With the possible exception of the reference to the “issuance and transfer of commercial launch licenses”, much of the verbiage with respect to private sector initiatives is about encouraging and facilitating.  Also, in the General Provisions of the National Space Program (Ch. 26, subchapter 2451):  “The Congress declares that it is the policy of the United States that activities in space should be devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind.”  and that “The Congress declares that the general welfare of the United States requires that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space.” [emphasis added]  However, this permissive and encouraging attitude quickly dissipates.  For example...}

70103.  General authority

            (a)  General -- The Secretary of Transportation shall carry out this chapter.

            (b)  Facilitating commercial launches.--  In carrying out this chapter, the Secretary shall---

                        (1)  encourage, facilitate, and promote commercial space launches by the private sector; and

                        (2)  take actions to facilitate private sector involvement in commercial space transportation activity, and to promote public-private partnerships involving the United States Government, State governments, and the private sector to build, expand, modernize, or operate a space launch infrastructure.

70104.  Restrictions on launches and operations

            (a)  License requirement.--  A license issued or transferred under this chapter is required for the following:  

{Basically... a license is needed for anyone to launch or operate a launch site in the United States, or for any US citizen to launch or operate a launch site outside the US, outside the territory of a foreign country (unless there is an agreement whereby the foreign country assumes jurisdiction over the launch), or within the foreign country IF there is an agreement whereby the United States assumes jurisdiction -- and thus liability.}  

            (c)  Preventing launches.--  The Secretary of Transportation shall establish whether all required licenses, authorizations, and permits required for a payload have been obtained.  If no license, authorization, or permit is required, the Secretary may prevent the launch if the Secretary decides the launch would jeopardize the public health and safety, safety of property, or national security or foreign policy interest of the United States.  

{NOTE:  Read the last sentence again.  For example, if a launch were to demonstrate that NASA is antiquated and such an embarrassing revelation might be against the foreign policy interest of the US, the Secretary can prevent any launch, even if a license is not required.}  

70105.  License applications and requirements

            (a)  Applications.--   

{Essentially, the Secretary can take up to 180 days to make up his mind -- although he is required to notify the applicant within 120 days of any “pending issue or action required to resolve the issue”.}  

            (b)  Requirements.--  

{Here, the Secretary may prescribe “any term necessary to ensure compliance with this chapter, including on-site verification”, plus “any additional requirements to protect the public health and safety”, etceteras, etceteras...  At the same time, the Secretary may waive a requirement if he or she decides the wavier is in the public interest and so forth.}  

70106.  Monitoring activities

            (a)  General requirements.-- A licensee under this chapter must allow the Secretary of Transportation to place an office or employee of the United State Government or another individual as an observer at a launch site the licensee uses, at a production facility or assembly site a contractor of the licensee uses to produce or assemble a launch vehicle, or at a site at which a payload is integrated with a launch vehicle.  The observer will monitor the activity of the licensee / contractor at the time and to the extent the Secretary considers reasonable to ensure compliance with the license or to carry out the duties of the Secretary under 70104(c) of this title.  A licensee must cooperate with an observer carrying out this subsection.

            (b)  Contracts.--  To the extent provided in advance in an appropriation law, the Secretary may make a contract with a person to carry out subsection (a) of this section.

            {NOTE:  So much for proprietary interests being protected.}  

70107. Effective periods, and modifications, suspensions, and revocations, of licenses  

{The Secretary is given the authority to determine the effective period of a license, may later modify a license, suspend or revoke it if the licensee has not complied substantially... or to protect the public health and safety...bla, bla, bla.  Modifications, suspensions, and revocations are effective immediately.  But at least the notification must be in writing.}  

70108.  Prohibition, suspension, and end of launches and operation of launch sites

            (a)  General authority.--  The Secretary of Transportation may prohibit, suspend, or end immediately the launch of a launch vehicle or the operation of a launch site licensed under this chapter if the Secretary decides the launch or operation is detrimental to the public health and safety, the safety of property, or a national security or foreign policy interest of the United States.

            (b)  Effective periods of orders.--  An order under this section takes effect immediately and remains in effect during a review under section 70110 of this title.  

70109.  Preemption of schedule launches  

{This is basically about a private launch being preempted from access to a US Government launch site, with the decision to preempt being that of the Secretary of Defense of the Administrator of NASA (the latter a Department of Defense agency).  “The decision may not be delegated.”}  

70112.  Liability insurance and financial responsibility requirements

            (a)  General requirements.-- When a license is issued or transferred under this chapter, the licensee or transferee shall obtain liability insurance or demonstrate financial responsibility in amounts to compensate for the maximum probable loss from claims...  

{The Secretary of Transportation shall determine the amount (after consulting the Administrator of NASA, the Secretary of the Air Force, and “other appropriate executive agencies.  Essentially, this means having insurance or financial resources of at least $500 million for third party lawsuits, and $100 million for US Government claims -- or “the maximum liability insurance on the world market at reasonable cost.”}  

70113.  Paying claims exceeding liability insurance and financial responsibility requirements.  

{This basically puts the US Government on the hook up to a maximum of $1.5 billion, plus inflation since January 1, 1989, for screwups by a licensee (assuming there is no willful misconduct by the licensee).}  

70115.  Enforcement and penalty  

{This gives the Secretary authority to: conduct investigations and inquiries, administer oaths, take affidavits, and “under lawful process enter at a reasonable time a launch site, production facility, assembly site of a launch vehicle, or site at which a payload is integrated with a launch vehicle to inspect...” and under lawful process, “seize the object, record, or report when there is probable cause to believe the object, record, or report was used, is being used, or likely to be used in violation of this chapter.”


It is important to realize that NASA is a Department of Defense agency, i.e. iaw 42 x 2457: “The Administration shall be considered a defense agency of the United States.”  NASA is open to public inspection, but this is limited by what might constitute privileged or confidential info of a non-federal party -- thus allowing for up to five years of withholding key data or new discoveries (or longer).  NASA is also allowed to conduct its own investigations (with or without the FBI), access to restricted data of the Atomic Energy Commission, use firearms, and arrest without warrant for any offense against the United States.  NASA also keeps the patents on any work done under contract to it. 


Of particular note is subsection (c):  “No patent may be issued to any applicant other than the Administrator for any invention which appears to the Commissioner of Patents and Trade-marks to have significant utility in the conduct of aeronautical and space activities unless the applicant files with the Commissioner, with the application or within thirty days after request by the Commissioner, a written statement executed under oath setting forth the full facts concerning the circumstances under which such invention was made and stating the relationship (if any) of such invention to the performance of any work under any contract to the Administration.”


This is in keeping with the standard procedures of the Patent office to notify the Department of Defense concerning any patent which mentions “Superconductivity” or other key phrases which might raise flags at DOD.}


{FINAL COMMENTS:  If this were a perfect world, and the US Government even slightly perfect, then a revolutionary new technology -- which would allow for easy access to space for virtually everyone -- would be welcomed by NASA and the Secretary of Transportation.  However, the odds are great that any such technology would be suppressed the moment someone attempted to acquire a license or otherwise let the world know of a new paradigm in the extraterrestrial ambitions of creative humans.


Even more curious is the fact that jurisdiction is really not mentioned in depth, i.e. a UFO attempting to take off after a landing (intentional or other wise) would be in violation of the law -- if they didn’t have a license, the Secretary of Transportation didn’t have a liaison on the scene, etceteras!}

<http://www2.spfo.unibo.it/spolfo/SPACELAW.htm> is an excellent source for yet more information, including Treaties and Documents, and a host of WWW Sites, the latter including <http://www.islandone.org/Treaties> for International Space Treaties and their impact on United States domestic law.  It’s not a pretty picture and makes the curious assumption that space travel is within the capabilities of entrepreneurs and those with a really clever idea or invention.  One might wonder if there are -- since the 1960s -- numerous examples of successful efforts, which have since been seized and secretized.  


Crop Circles         The Fifth Gospel         Disclosure Project         UFOs

Forward to:

Space Exposure Law         July 20th         Invasion of Earth



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