International Space Law
International space law is a branch of international law that governs space-related activities. On the one hand, it comprises international agreements, treaties, conventions and customary international law. On the other hand, non-binding "soft law" forms an integral part, such as most United Nations General Assembly resolutions as well as various rules and guidelines.
The main international forum to discuss space law and policy is the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) with its subcommittees (scientific and technical as well as legal), which each meet annually in Vienna, Austria. UNCOPUOS was established as a permanent body in 1959 and is assisted by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). Since 1993, UNOOSA is located in Vienna, Austria.
Besides, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) deals with the allocation of the global radio spectrum and satellite orbits. In addition, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) are responsible for questions relating to the militarisation of outer space. The ITU and CD are based in Geneva, Switzerland; the UNODA is located in New York, United States.
International space law especially refers to the following five international space treaties, which have been developed between 1967 and 1979 in the framework of UNCOPUOS:
- The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies 1967 ("Outer Space Treaty");
- The Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space 1968 ("Rescue Agreement");
- The Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects 1972 ("Liability Convention");
- The Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space 1975 ("Registration Convention");
- The Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies 1979 ("Moon Agreement").
European Space Legislation
European space legislation with regard to Austria encompasses the legal regime of the European Union, the European Space Agency and European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites.
The European Union's parallel competence in the area of space derives from Art. 4 (3) of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). In addition, Art. 189 TFEU forms the legal basis for the European Space Policy, European Space Programme and the collaboration with the European Space Agency. Nevertheless, any harmonisation of the laws and regulations of the member states is excluded.
The European Space Policy is based on the Space Strategy for Europe, which was published by the European Commission in 2016 and approved by the Council of the European Union in 2017. It focuses on four strategic goals:
- Maximising the benefits of space for society and the EU economy;
- Fostering a globally competitive and innovative European space sector;
- Reinforcing Europe's autonomy in accessing and using space in a secure and safe environment;
- Strengthening Europe's role as a global actor and promoting international cooperation.
In 2021, the Regulation establishing the space programme of the Union and the European Union Agency for the Space Programme will come into force. The European space programme will consist of the current flagship space programmes (Galileo, EGNOS, Copernicus) and two new components (Space Situational Awareness and Governmental Satellite Communications). The European GNSS Agency (GSA) will be renamed the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) and will gain new competences.
Art. 189 (3) TFEU, the European Space Strategy and the European Space Programme all refer to the collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA). Already in 2004, the former European Community and ESA adopted a Framework Agreement. Its Art. 8 estalished the so-called Space Council, to coordinate and facilitate cooperative activities. The 10th Space Council is planned to be held at the end of 2020. Besides, the European Union has concluded various delegation agreements with ESA. Negotiations are currently ongoing for a single Financial Framework Partnership Agreement as provided for in the Regulation establishing the space programme of the Union.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is an intergovernmental organisation established by its Convention, which was opened for signature in 1975 and entered into force in 1980. According to its Art. II, the purpose of ESA is to provide for and promote, for exclusively peaceful purposes, cooperation among member states in space research and technology and space applications. Austria ratified the convention in 1986 and consequently became a full member in 1987.
The European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) is an intergovernmental organisation established by its Convention, which entered into force in 1986. According to its Art. 2, the objectives of EUMETSAT are to establish, maintain and exploit European systems of operational meteorological satellites and to contribute to the operational monitoring of the climate and the detection of global climate changes. Austria is a member state since 1993. The European Union signed a delegation agreement with EUMETSAT on the collaboration on Copernicus. EUMETSAT also concluded various agreements with the European Space Agency to facilitate their cooperation.
National Space Law
Austria has ratified all five international space treaties. In order to implement its obligations deriving thereof, Austria enacted the Austrian Outer Space Act in 2011, which was complemented by the Outer Space Regulation in 2015.
The Austrian space legislation comprehensively regulates legal aspects related to national space activities, such as
- authorisation, supervision and termination of space activities,
- registration and transfer of space objects,
- recourse of the government against the operator in case of damage as well as
- sanctions for the infringement of the law.
It also takes into account the sustainability of outer space by making it mandatory for the operator to provide for the mitigation of space debris and contamination of outer space. Furthermore, the Austrian Space Act established the Austrian Registry for Space Objects, which is maintained by the Austrian Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology (BMK).
The BMK is the competent space authority in Austria. It is responsible for authorising and supervising national space activities. So far, three out of four Austrian satellites (TUGSAT-1, UniBrite and PEGASUS) have been launched under the Austrian space legislation. They are registered in the Austrian Registry for Space Objects as well as the United Nations Register of Objects Launched into Outer Space.
In 2001, Austria established a National Point of Contact for Space Law (NPOC Austria) in reference to the European Centre for Space Law (ECSL). The NPOC Austria's objective is to promote space law in Austria and to support students. It serves as the first contact point for people interested in space law and is partly funded by the BMK.