The law of celestial spatia – Does India need a space law?


This article was written by Nikhil. B. Gangai, a student of Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad.

Space Law[1] is that part of the law that governs the activities of a country in Outer Space. All activities that are carried out in space, also called outer space need to be governed to prevent the misuse of the moon and other celestial bodies.[2] The space around the earth is in general governed by a set of 16 agreements[3]. These agreements are generic in nature and are internationally applicable though some member states of the UN are signatories to these treaties but haven’t ratified them or brought them into force in their respective countries. Space law is a kind of law that countries do not feel a need for now but, as technology advances and people progress, it will soon be the need of the hour. But does India need it now?

            Out of all the countries in the world, only 22 countries have their own national laws regulating the outer space over their air-space.[4] India, though a signatory to these treaties has not brought forth a law in existence to actually govern it. Space law addresses a variety of matters such as the preservation of the space, Earth environment, liability for damages caused by space objects, the settlement of disputes, the rescue of astronauts, the sharing of information about potential dangers in outer space, the use of space-related technologies, and international cooperation. It also regulates potential military activities being carried out in the outer space. Countries currently go through either the international norms or some random norms of their country to carry out their space projects. Start-ups in India working in the space sector face unquantifiable opposition due to the lack of a legal and regulatory framework. India’s first private satellite developer, Dhruva Space[5], vouches for the problems faced by start-ups. Dhruva currently has to go through Indian Space Research organisation (ISRO) for its customer demonstrations.[6]

            ISRO currently governs and dominates the Indian outer space. As of now, any proposal regarding the space made to the Department of Space is processed by ISRO first, which functions under the Department of Space, which falls directly under the Prime Minister’s Office. ISRO has multiple bodies under it like, National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA), Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), (National Mesosphere Stratosphere Troposphere Radar Facility (NFRF) and National Natural Resources Management Systems (NNRMS). What ISRO needs is a legal organisation now that it has Antrix Corporation[7], the commercial arm of ISRO. Balakista Reddy, Head of NALSAR’s Centre for Air and Space Law contends that the lack of a legal framework deters potential private investors from investing in the Indian Space market. Now that space is being privatised and ever since SpaceShipOne’s[8] successful sub-orbital flight, private entrepreneurs like Virgin’s Richard Branson are striving for the delivery of ‘Commercial Space Vehicle’. Virgin Galactic[9] passengers will reportedly get a three and a half hour journey into space. There are reports that over seven thousand people who have already signed on to reserve a $275,000 seat on these flights, due to commence in 2008.[10]

            A national law governing space is not only required because it is the state’s responsibility but also because the state has a liability to keep in worst case scenarios. Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty (OST) states that the state should bear international responsibility to any national activities that occur in outer space if it is a party to the treaty.[11] From this perspective, as a result of this article, a state is responsible for any of its space activities, whether undertaken by a private entity or public as along as it qualifies under the definition of ‘national activities’. But, the discrepancy here is that which activities qualify as ‘national activities’ is unclear. In the Liability Convention, there is a question of which state is the ‘launching state’? Hundreds of such small but important discrepancies can be found in the international agreements governing space. Hence, the need for a domestic space law is heightened as these small questions can lead to innumerable law suits with unquantifiable compensations and varying judgements. This hinders the private interest in the national space industry.

            Companies like Virgin Atlantic, SpaceX etcetera have gotten into private space business long ago during 2004 only because United States of America (USA) has a domestic law governing space[12] whereas private entities like Dhruva are entering Indian space market now.

            If India wants to keep up with the developed countries and wants to function on par with such countries, it should start concentrating on future prospects instead of concentrating only on the current needs. A separate, codified space law is the need of the hour and will be an integral part of the space industry in India.[13]

[1] The united Nation’s Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) introduces the concept of space law on its website:

[2] It is governed by Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies also known as ‘Moon agreement’. Its international citation has been given below:

1363 UN Treaty Set 3 (1979)

[3] As of 1st Jan 2014, the outer space is governed by 16 international agreements which have been formulated under the UNOOSA and ratified by some of the world’s countries:

[4] The UNOOSA has a collection of all the national laws regulating space and which are currently in force. These laws can be juxtaposed with the UN agreements. These national space laws are meant to function as a guiding lamp to all other nations coming up with a space law of their own:

[5] Dhruva Airspace was established in 2012. It is India’s first private space organisation:                              

[6] More information about this news is available here:

[7] Antrix Corporation is a mini-ratna established by the Government as a commercial wing of ISRO. It is headquartered in Bangalore. More information about it is available here:

[8] SpaceShipOne was built by Scaled Composites. It was the first space-plane to complete the manned sub-orbital flight and it also received the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004. More information can be found at:

[9] More information is available on its website:

[10] As reported in The Sun-Herald:

Eddie Fitzmaurice, Beam Me Up, Richard, The Sun-Herald (Sydney) 52 (Oct 24, 2004)

[11] Article VI of the OST states that,

“States Parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty. The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty. When activities are carried on in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, by an international organization, responsibility for compliance with this Treaty shall be borne both by the international organization and by the States Parties to the Treaty participating in such organization.”

[12] The domestic space law of USA is available at:

[13] More Information regarding International Space laws is available at: and

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