Space Laws

3 Mins

Ever wondered if there are any laws in outer space?

Not those laws of gravity and other science-y things. But can you commit a crime in space and get away with it?

We were curious to know, and this is what we’ve found out.

Space, a bit like the high seas, is res communis - an area of territory that is not subject to legal title of any state.

The Outer Space Treaty outlines international space laws including these:

  • prohibiting nuclear weapons in space
  • limiting moon use to peaceful activities
  • establishing the right to freely explore space by all nations
  • preventing any country claiming sovereignty over outer space or any celestial body.

If you commit a crime in space you are subject to the law of the country you are a citizen of. This was put to the test in 2019 when NASA astronaut Anne McClain was accused of accessing her estranged partner’s bank details. At the time, she was on a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS). She fully cleared following an investigation.

The law gets a little more complicated if the crime victim on board the ISS is a citizen of a different nation than the perpetrator. It can even depend on whether you’re on your own section of the ISS or on a partner’s nation’s section when the crime is committed.

It’s an area of law that’s likely to get more complex with growing space tourism and commercial activities in space.

Perhaps there’s room for a space lawyer or two in the future!

Written by Jason Connolly