ISDC: Look to the Sea Rather Than Air for Space Law?

The Liability Atmosphere of Commercial Human Spaceflight
James Dunstan

Founder, Mobius Legal Group LLC
30 years writing space law

The Wrong Model for Space Law

  • We have been thinking about space law all wrong
  • Instead of treating it like the aviation, should treat it like the high seas
  • On high seas, hazards to navigation can be removed
  • Maritime law recognizes rights of salvage and finds on derelict vehicles
  • In space, nothing can be touched – a true “tragedy of the commons”

Orbital Debris

  • Who is responsible to dispose of space junk: Nobody
  • Envisat – 17,000 lb. enviromental satellites – ESA has no plans to deorbit or move it
  • ESA claims there was no consensus in 2002 on End of Life (EOL)

Do we Need a New Treaty?

  • NO!
  • Make derelict equipment subject to the law of finds
  • Make leaving it on orbit negligent


  • Groups would start to register all their satellites
  • Military assets would be taken care of
  • Would be an economic driver