Space Laws31 Aug, 20223 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