Milestones of the ECSL NPOC Austria

Since the foundation of the ECSL National Point of Contact Austria, many milestones have already been celebrated.

The foundation

The NPOC Space Law Austria is founded under the direction of Professor Christian Brünner at the University of Graz. The aim of the European Centre for Space Law (ECSL) is to establish a National Point of Contact (NPOC) in as many ESA Member States as possible to deal with the legal aspects of space activities and make them accessible to the interested public. Initiatives and projects to further develop space law for its adaptation to new technologies and uses are also among the tasks of the NPOC.

First ECSL Summer Course in Austria

The ECSL Summer Course on Space Law and Policy offers students and young academics the opportunity to gain insights into current topics in space law during two intensive weeks. Experienced experts from academia and practice are among the lecturers. Each year, a different location in an ESA Member State is chosen to host the event. The NPOC Space Law at the University of Graz is applying as a local organiser so that this event can take place in Austria for the first time. A special feature is the relatively large proportion of participants from neighbouring Eastern European countries that are not yet ESA members.

Law in space exploration

The internationally oriented event at the University of Graz on "Spaceflight and the Law" is dedicated to current topics in spaceflight from technical and legal perspectives. Space activities such as rocket launches, Earth observation, and telecommunications are each examined from both scientific disciplines, thus taking into account the interdisciplinary aspects of space activities. The event was followed by a book publication containing all contributions.

Move to the Austrian capital

The NPOC Space Law Austria moves to the University of Vienna under the direction of Professor Irmgard Marboe. The close proximity to the Vienna headquarters of the United Nations, the Vienna International Centre (VIC), which also hosts the United Nations Office for the Outer Space (UNOOSA), will henceforth be used to organise events on space law topics at the margins of the sessions of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) and its two Subcommittees. The aim is to build bridges between academics, UNCOPUOS delegates, the Austrian space community and interested students. The first such event takes place in the Small Festival Hall of the University of Vienna on the topic of "Perspectives of Space Exploration and the Role of the United Nations" with the participation of prominent personalities such as Scott Pace (USA), Xu Yu (China), Kazuhiro Miyazaki (Japan), Sergey Shestakov (Russia), Kai-Uwe Schrogl (ESPI) and Mazlan Othman (UNOOSA).

A national law

The NPOC Space Law Austria is entrusted by the Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT) with the first draft of a national space law. Due to the nanosatellite projects TUGSAT1 (Graz University of Technology) and UniBRITE (University of Vienna), Austria becomes the "launching State" of space objects for the first time and must fulfil its corresponding international obligations. These include, most importantly, the authorisation and supervision as well as the registration of launched space objects. Workshops with experts are taking place as well as consultations in the Interministerial Group on Outer Space, in which the Austrian Foreign Ministry, the Ministries of the Interior, of Justice, of Defence and Sports and of Finance, are represented in addition to the BMVIT.

Space law in the media

The topic of national space law is also discussed at the Austrian Annual Conference on Public International Law organised by the Johannes Kepler University in Linz in Freistadt. One comment in the media on this is: "A small step for humankind, but a big one for Austria" (Benedikt Kommenda, Die Presse; illustration Vinzenz Schüller). However, the rising number of satellites increases the risk of collisions in outer space. This is especially true for small satellites that are not manoeuvrable. While the UN space treaties do not directly address this problem, there are international guidelines and recommendations on the issue of "Space Debris Mitigation". Austria will enshrine these international guidelines and recommendations in its law as a binding prerequisite for the authorization of satellite projects and thus be one of the pioneers in ensuring the long-term sustainability of the use of space.

A national space law for Austria

The Austrian Space Act is presented to the Parliament in November as a government bill. After a positive opinion by the parliamentary Committee on Research, Innovation and Technology, it is forwarded to the National Council, which adopts it without a dissenting vote. The Federal Council also has no objections. The law is published in Federal Law Gazette 132/I and enters into force on 28 December 2011.

The importance of Soft Law

In addition to so-called "hard law", i.e. binding law at international and national level, instruments containing non-binding norms are playing an increasingly important role in the space sector. These norms can be referred to as "soft law" because, despite not being binding, they nevertheless aim at guiding the behaviour of the actors concerned in a certain direction and also do so in practice. "Guidelines", "recommendations" or "codes of conduct" play a major role especially in the field of space debris mitigation. Nothing is specifically laid down in the UN space treaties in this respect - apart from the general requirement of due regard of the corresponding interests of other countries and the prohibition of harmful contamination of outer space - but all actors are very aware of the problem. Avoiding space debris is in everyone's interest and serves the goal of the long-term sustainability of the use of outer space. On the question of the significance of "soft law" in outer space, the NPOC Space Law Austria organises an event at the margins of the UNCOPUOS Legal Subcommittee at the Vienna Juridicum. The contributions are later on submitted in written form and published as an edited volume by Böhlau.

ECSL Summer Course comes to Austria

The Summer Course on Space Law and Policy takes place every year in a different ESA Member State. After Graz in 2004, the NPOC at the University of Vienna is now the organiser together with ECSL. Klosterneuburg has been chosen as the venue, and its location on the Danube - instead of at the seaside, as is often the case - creates a bit of a summer atmosphere. The participants enthusiastically plunge into a demanding and dense programme that includes not only numerous lectures by experienced experts but also the assignment of a project development and presentation. There is hardly any time left for the summer leisure activities, but in the end, everyone looks back on two instructive and intensive weeks filled with new impressions and experiences.

TUGSAT1 and UniBRITE launch their mission

After the successful launch of the satellites TUGSAT1 and UniBRITE with an Indian PSLV rocket in February 2013, the two operators, Professor Otto Koudelka (Graz University of Technology) and Professor Weiss (University of Vienna), submit the relevant launch and orbital data of the satellites as well as other required information to the Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology in order to register them in the Austrian Space Registry, which has been established on the basis of the Space Act in the meantime. The NPOC answers the operators' questions in this regard so that all formal criteria can be met. The Ministry forwards the data also to the Foreign Ministry, which transmits them by way of a Note Verbale to UNOOSA in order to have the international registration in the UN Space Registry carried out. Austria thus, for the first time, becomes a "space faring nation".

A Space Regulation for Austria

The Space Act of 2011 laid the most important foundations for the authorisation and supervision of Austrian space activities and for the registration of Austrian space objects. Nevertheless, the Act left some detailed questions to be fleshed out in a regulation by the Ministry. The regulation is first drafted internally and then discussed and agreed in a panel of experts, with the participation of the NPOC. It contains more detailed information on the transmission of documents, on the question of experts as well as costs and fees. After publication in Federal Law Gazette 35/II, it enters into force on 27 February 2015.

Satellite data policy issues

The development of the European space programmes Galileo and Copernicus by ESA and the EU increasingly raises questions of satellite data policy. Different levels of law intertwine in the process. Political decisions at different levels and in different institutions become necessary. In addition to ESA and the EU, the collection, processing and dissemination of satellite data affects legal norms by the Council of Europe, in particular the European Convention on Human Rights, but also national law of various states must be considered. In contrast, satellite data law and policy in the United States are shaped by only one sovereign state. Decades of experience in this field make it valuable to cultivate an intensive exchange in this context. The NPOC organises an event on the topic of European and U.S. satellite data policies together with the European Space Policy Institute (ESPI) at the margins of the UNCOPUOS Legal Subcommittee. UNCOPUOS Chair David Kendall (Canada) acts as moderator, and Professor Joanne Gabrynowicz is the experienced speaker from the United States.

Small satellites - chances and risks

Rapid technological development renders the development, launch and operation of small satellites increasingly cost-effective. Universities and research institutes as well as private companies are increasingly taking advantage of these new opportunities. But small satellites do not only offer opportunities, they also pose considerable legal challenges. Authorisation and supervision as well as registration by the launching state are just as necessary as for large space projects. Compulsory insurance and space debris mitigation pose significant challenges in addition. An event at the Vienna Juridicum at the margins of the UNCOPUOS Legal Subcommittee is devoted to the various legal issues related to small satellites. The subsequent book publication is in cooperation with Professor Frans von der Dunk in his series "Studies in Space Law" at Brill.

The Hague Space Resources Governance Working Group

The adoption of the Space Resources Exploration and Utilisation Act by the United States in 2015 brings the issue of space resources much attention from a broader public. While Luxembourg is following suit and passes a similar law in 2017, there are increasing calls for a multilateral solution. Since the Moon Agreement, with its only 18 contracting parties, does not represent the appropriate legal framework for many, alternative forums are being sought. One initiative in this context is the "Hague International Space Resources Governance Working Group". Supported by the Netherlands and subsequently also by Luxembourg, various actors are invited to formulate the key parameters of an international framework for the exploration and use of space resources. With the involvement of companies active in this field, experts, but also space agencies and government representatives, a number of "building blocks" have been formulated and are presented on the margins of UNCOPUOS in the VIC premises. The NPOC, which has accompanied the process as an observer, is acting as host and moderator.

Legal aspects of the defense against Near-Earth Objects

Under the title "Planetary Defence" activities with respect to "Near-Earth Object (NEO) Mitigation" are dealt with in the UNCOPUOS Scientific and Technical Subcommittee. Nevertheless, legal questions increasingly arise in the context of the work of the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG). When an international mission is to be planned to defend against dangerous asteroids or comets, legal questions inevitably emerge. In 2016, SMPAG therefore set up an Ad-hoc Working Group on Legal Issues to address legal issues in this context. The NPOC Space Law Austria was represented in this Working Group and actively contributed to the formulation of the corresponding report. Against this background, the plan for a book on the legal aspects of planetary defence was developed, which was discussed with interested international law experts at the margins of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Washington D.C. at the invitation and in the premises of the American Society of International Law (ASIL).

Vice world champion in space law

The NPOC Space Law Austria was supposed to be the local organiser of the European Rounds of the Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court in Vienna. The plan was to have them take place during the Legal Subcommittee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), which was to be held at the Vienna International Centre (VIC), the Vienna headquarters of the United Nations in April. This was to give the teams the opportunity to attend the meetings as observers. Due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and related measures from mid-March, this plan could not be realised. After looking at various options, a semi-final with four teams was organised online in June. The four semi-finalists, selected on the basis of the written memorials submitted, competed against each other via video livestream.
The judges for the Final were Professor Armel Kerrest (France, President), Professor Stephan Hobe (Germany) and Jenni Tapio (Finland). The teams were known to the judges only by their team numbers. The team from the University of Vienna was finally crowned the winner and also received the Best Oralist Award (Hristina Talkova).
The first-time advancement of a team from Vienna to the World Finals was only marred by the fact that they could not take place in Dubai as planned, but were also organised online. In the Final, the Viennese team was only beaten by the team from the National Law University Delhi (India) and took second place. Hristina Talkova was again convincing as Best Oralist and received the award for Best Memorial, together with Rosanna Hofmann and Katharina Harreiter.