The concept of space law
‘Wherever You Go, the Taxman Goes’ ran a 2009 headline in the New York Times, alluding to the seemingly inescapable ubiquity of that infamous phenomenon of the tax collector.1 This neat one-liner is a good point of departure for the analysis of ‘space law’ as well: ‘wherever humans go, the law follows’, and this is also true in outer space. Only once humankind entered the realm of outer space did the legal aspects of such endeavours start to occupy the minds of more than just a few visionaries and legal theoreticians. The shortest way of defining ‘space law’ therefore would be ‘all law that actually, one way or another, follows humans into outer space’.
Thereby, it addresses in principle an unlimited array of human activities, interactions and interests which, throughout history, on Earth have often already been dealt with by way of myriad different legal regimes without usually taking the special ‘space-characteristics’ into consideration. In other words, space law would be ‘every legal or regulatory regime having a significant impact, even if implicitly or indirectly, on at least one type of space activity or major space application’,2 regardless of whether such a regime has taken the specifics of application to outer space or space activities into account.
On closer look, however, the issue is a bit more complicated.
Outer space is often viewed as the fourth geographical realm for human activity, following the territories, the seas and the airspaces respectively, yet it is...
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