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Space Exploration and Technology
The space exploration and technology sector are growing globally. This growth can be primarily attributed to private players, who are increasingly taking up and succeeding at the challenges that were previously only tackled by governments with deep pockets. Implementing advanced space technology is critical since several services like weather forecasts, remote sensing, satellite television, and long-distance communication rely on space infrastructure.
Small satellites, often called CubeSat, have become popular in the recent years. They enable scientists to conduct many specific research missions for which large, expensive satellites are not needed. Miniaturized satellites encourage mass production by companies and enable cost-effective designs. Several companies like Planet, Hawkeye, BlackSky, and Swarm have successfully launched small satellites.
SPACE EXPLORATION INNOVATIONS
Technological innovations are now driving space activities and research. Emerging technologies like advanced satellite systems, 3D printing, big data, nano materials, and artificial intelligence are bringing reformations in activities and operations in this sector.
Traditionally, space communications relied heavily on a transmitter and a receiver. Recent technological developments in space communication have gone beyond receivers and transmitters to provide advanced technologies like high-capacity antennae, ground stations, and low-orbit satellites (LEO). Several companies like Thorium Space Technologies and Arctic Space Technologies are developing ground-breaking innovations to facilitate advanced space communication.
Rockets are expensive. Starting from its raw materials to the paints used, everything is costly. Unfortunately, despite spending millions on a rocket, it can only be used once. This has been the biggest downside for space organizations. But ever since commercial companies got approvals to try their hand at innovation in space tech, fate has changed. Today, the front running space tech companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, are unravelling reusable rockets that save cost and efforts. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is a two-stage rocket designed for payload delivery and manned flight. Blue Origin has also launched the ‘New Shepard rocket’ a reusable rocket to the edge of space.
The technologies discovered by NASA to explore new horizons for humanity are now being put to everyday applications. Inventions like portable vacuum cleaners, blankets, invisible braces, and many more, were first introduced by NASA solely for space exploration. Other technological advancements pioneered by space research include cardiac pumps, artificial limbs, the Internet, and camera sensors.
Numerous space organizations have released various satellites into the Earth’s orbit. Among various uses of satellites, a unique use is the GPS network. GPS networks allow us to pinpoint our location anywhere around the globe. Moreover, GPS networks are extensively used by navigation services like Google Maps. When clubbed with artificial intelligence and machine learning, GPS can help operate autonomous vehicles. With the help of sensors, the vehicles can learn to drive safely on their own. For example, an autonomous tractor can use accurate GPS results to feed plant, spray fertilizer, spray pesticides, and harvest crops.
The satellites that orbit the Earth, send and receive data and signals to different devices. Satellite signals are used for mobile communication and provide Internet access to remote areas of the Earth. Such mobile communication and Internet have made it possible to connect and communicate with anyone in any corner of the world and have revolutionized the way we connect and work.
Another area of interest and potential opportunity is space tourism. Space tourism can be for fun, amusement, business, or education. Space travel is expensive, yet a buyer can find everything that is put on the market, as outlined in the Keynesian theory of jobs. It may take some time for the venture to breakeven and become self-sustaining, but it is an opportunity that should not be overlooked. Space tourism provides numerous prospects for start-ups in the fields of food, clothing, and hygiene, to name a few.
There’s a commercial burst underway due to new technology, lower-cost access to space, and new business models, and as traditional space activities are revolutionized, new and complex legal issues crop up.
MAJOR INDUSTRY PLAYERS
The past few decades have witnessed the largest changes to the space establishment since the Cold War. Between Sputnik 1 and SpaceX Falcon 9, we have seen more nations establish their own defensive space commands, diversify their space technologies, and even demonstrate potentially destructive capabilities for the world to see.
What’s more is that space exploration is no longer a domain reserved for wealthy nations alone. Today, private stakeholders have also earned (or paid for) a seat at the table. Billionaires including Paul Allen, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson at the helm of companies such as Stratolaunch Systems, SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, respectively, have disrupted a market long dominated by defence contractors. In India, companies like Agnikul Cosmos, Skyroot Aerospace, Pixel, Bellatrix Aerospace and others are taking the lead in this fast-changing sector.
One thing is clear: space has matured into a domain driven by a greater number of actors—be it nations, private entities, or non-traditional actors—and is now more congested, contested, and competitive than ever before.
Space law can be described as the body of law governing space-related activities. Space law, much like general international law, comprises a variety of international agreements, treaties, conventions, United Nations General Assembly resolutions as well as rules and regulations of international organizations.
The term "space law" is most often associated with the rules, principles and standards of international law appearing in the five international treaties and five sets of principles governing outer space which have been developed under the auspices of the United Nations. In addition to these international instruments, many states have national legislation governing space-related activities.
Space law addresses a variety of matters, such as, the preservation of the space and 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. A number of fundamental principles guide the conduct of space activities, including the notion of space as the province of all humankind, the freedom of exploration and use of outer space by all states without discrimination, and the principle of non-appropriation of outer space.
Although space is a global resource and many countries are jockeying to exploit it, there is no global regulatory agency. The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space is the forum for the development of international space law. The Committee has concluded five international treaties and five sets of principles on space-related activities. Each of the treaties stresses the notion that outer space, the activities carried out in outer space and whatever benefits might be accrued from outer space should be devoted to enhancing the well-being of all countries and humankind, with an emphasis on promoting international cooperation.
Although the Outer Space Treaty says no nation may appropriate territory anywhere in space, it’s silent on exploitation by individuals and corporate entities. Companies are already building models for space hotels, and soon we’re going to have commercial entities landing on and mining the moon. Space travel and tourism create a pressing need for a legislation to ensure that private companies comply with the minimal OST obligations, and liability issues will become particularly relevant as suborbital flights begin in the next 12 to 18 months.
Not long after gaining independence from the British in 1947, India's space programme was born in 1962 under the leadership of Vikram Sarabhai. The programme got its first stimulus in 1969 with the founding of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The Indian government established the Space Commission of India (the Space Commission) and the Department of Space (DOS) in mid-1972, bringing ISRO under the management of the DOS in September 1972. India launched its first satellite, Aryabhata, in 1975. Since then, India's space sector has come a long way.
India signed the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies 1967 (the Outer Space Treaty) in 1967, although it was not ratified until 1982. India also acceded to the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects 1972 in 1979 and ratified the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space 1968 in 1979. Further, in 1982, India acceded to the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space 1975 and signed the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies 1979.
REGULATION OF SPACE ACTIVITIES IN INDIA
India's space programme has a hierarchical structure and is headed by the Office of the Prime Minister, which governs all operations and exercises control over India's space programme through the Space Commission and the DOS.3
The Space Commission is in charge of framing India's space policy, while the responsibility for the implementation of this policy lies with the DOS. Research and development in the space sector are primarily realised through ISRO. The primary aim of India's space programme is to harness space technology for national development, while pursuing space science research and planetary exploration.
India has a Remote Sensing Data Policy (RSDP), which was initially introduced in 2001 and revised in 2011. The RSDP governs the acquisition and distribution of satellite remote sensing data by non-government users, which may be acquired through an Indian satellite or a foreign satellite.
Communication is one of the essential services provided through satellites in space, and India first formulated its satellite communications (SATCOM) policy in 1997. Since 1993, the SATCOM policy has been the primary space policy in India. Rules were published in 2000 by the government with regard to the regulation of SATCOM in India. The SATCOM policy aims to develop a thriving SATCOM and ground equipment industry in India. Even in 1997 it was envisaged by the government that SATCOM equipment should be manufactured in India and that India should be self-reliant in this sector.19 One of the striking features of the SATCOM policy is its intention to make available the Indian National Satellite System (INSAT) to the general Indian public. The SATCOM policy first envisaged privatisation and foreign investment in the Indian space industry.
The participation of Indian industry in space activities has spanned nearly five decades, and ISRO has been working with approximately 500 private entities, albeit in a limited manner. Private entities have been predominantly engaged in the Indian space sector by means of contractual relations with the DOS through ACL, the commercial arm of ISRO, which was incorporated as a wholly owned company by the Indian government in 1992 under the administrative control of the DOS.
In the past two years, the government announced that two new entities would be established to facilitate the active participation of private sector players in the Indian space industry. In 2019, New Space India Limited (NSIL) was set up, a public-sector enterprise that was incorporated as a commercial arm of ISRO, under the administrative control of the DOS. The NSIL was established to commercially exploit the benefits of the research and development carried out by ISRO, with the aim to move space activities from a supply-driven model to a demand-driven model. The NSIL is mandated to own and operate satellites, develop launch vehicles, provide launch services and allow the transfer of technology.
In June 2020, the government announced the creation of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe). This entity serves as a regulator and facilitator for the private space industry with an aim to handhold, promote and guide the private space industry in India. A licensing, authorisation and supervisory regime was put in place for IN-SPACe to act as a regulator under Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty. It also acts as a facilitator for the private sector as it assesses the demands of this sector in consultation with ISRO.
RELEVANT LAWS IN INDIA
The regulatory policies that govern space laws in India are;1
Satellite Communication Policy, 1997, has four objectives: first, to develop a satellite communications service industry; second, to develop a communications satellite and ground equipment industry; third, to further use and develop India's capabilities in satellites, ground equipment design, and launch vehicles; and fourth, to make the infrastructure built by the Indian National Satellite System ("INSAT") available to a wider audience.
The Revised Remote Sensing Data Policy, 2011, (RSDP) of India was initially introduced in 2001 and was recently modified in 2011. The RSDP controls the collecting and transmission of satellite remote sensing data by non-government users, which may be from an Indian or a foreign satellite.
The Technology Transfer Policy of ISRO establishes a system for transferring technologies created by the Department of Space Industry and calculates the cost of technology development for DOS and ISRO.
Under the Constitution of India, 1950, Article 51 and Article 73 promote the obligations under the Vienna Convention of the law of Treaties 1968 which reduces the ambiguity of the space industry in India.
DRAFT POLICIES AND BILLS
The recent growth and huge potential of the sector has prompted the Indian government to undertake several initiatives to promote and regulate it. Here are some of those:
National Space Transportation Policy 2020 is designed to provide independent and dependable access to space to harness space technology for national development, security, and sovereignty, as well as to foster an environment in which Indian entities can develop space transportation systems and thus gain a significant position in the global space economy.2
Humans in Space Policy for India 2021 is designed to advance India's human space programme by ensuring human presence in space for development, innovation, and national interest.3
Space Activities Bill, 2017: The growing importance of space operations around the globe, as well as the several space treaties India has signed, has fuelled the demand for a more comprehensive and organised space law. The Space Activities Bill 2017 was created to interpret the grey areas and loopholes that regulate Space Activities and for India's private sector to access the $423.8 billion space industry. The law has undergone extensive vetting and was delivered to the Prime Minister on August 20, 2020, but it has yet to be approved. Its goal is to "promote the entire expansion of India's space endeavours." This would encourage enhanced participation of non-governmental/private sector agencies in space activities in India, in compliance with international treaty obligations, which is becoming very relevant today.”4
In addition, India has signed several international treaties related to space exploration:
The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of states in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space.
The Moon and Other Celestial Bodies 1967 (the Outer Space Treaty) was signed by India in 1967 and ratified in 1982.
The Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts, and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space 1968 was ratified In India in 1979.
Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects 1972.
Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies 1979 was signed by India.
Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space 1975 in 1982 was signed.
INDIAN REGULATORY AGENCY FOR SPACE TECHNOLOGY
Several government agencies are involved in this sector in India. They play a dual role of promoting and regulating space exploration and technology development.
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Founded on 15th August 1969, its vision is to, “harness space technology for national development while pursuing space science research and planetary exploration.’’5
Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe): It was established on June 24, 2020, to increase the commercialization of India's space agency, which would inevitably lead to the privatisation of the country's space business. Its goal is to offer the private sector a much-needed boost by supporting, advising, and promoting private sector participation in space activities through a stringent and favourable regulatory regime.6
New Space India Limited (NSIL): It was established in March 2019 to support India's space programme (ISP). This commercial arm of ISRO enables Indian enterprises to engage in high-tech space-related activities and is also in charge of the promotion and commercialization of goods and services resulting from the Indian space programme.7
AntrixCorporation Limited (ACL). It is ISRO's commercial and marketing arm, which sells and markets space-related goods and services. It covers a wide range of applications, including communications, earth observation, and research missions, and includes the delivery of hardware and software, starting from simple subsystems, all the way up to a sophisticated spacecraft.8
Many unanswered variables remain in legislating, regulating and ultimately taxing entities in space. The nature of the obstacles seems to be a magnification of the current issues presented in the digital economy and will perhaps serve as a precursor to unforeseen usages.
EXPLOITATION OF CELESTIAL BODIES
Although on Earth, natural resources are being exhausted, many of them are present on celestial bodies, including asteroids, in enormous quantities. Their misuse, one of the examples of potential legal issues relating to space, runs counter to Article II of the Treaty on Outer Space (OST) of 1967, which states that ‘Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by demand of sovereignty, by use or occupation, or by any other means.’ In outer space, all types of appropriation are forbidden, even by private individuals.
INCREASING SPACE DEBRIS
An absolute junkyard of orbital space debris consisting of obsolete satellites, and also parts and instruments lost during extravehicular activities, has been generated by increasing space activity. Space debris can pose an operational spacecraft satellite navigation threat, particularly in the Geostationary Satellite Orbit, where it can drift, raising the risk of colliding or interfering with the transmissions with operating satellites.
The use of satellites is the most prominent example of space technology where issues arise for tax authorities. The nebulous nature of these services makes it difficult to determine the appropriate measures for taxation. An example is a situation where a satellite owned by one country in orbit over another country and providing a service to a third country. Which country has the right to tax the transaction?
Another concept that becomes apparent is the issue of permanent establishment. The only reason that a satellite in geostationary orbit is not a permanent establishment is because it is outside the territory of all states. However, if a permanent establishment is not in any state then it has no relevance for the international tax system.
As humans extend their reach in outer space, laws regulating human activities in that area are becoming more and more applicable and significant for both states and the commercial sector. Technological advances have made space operations possible for private operators who are not yet incorporated into the current legal system.
In response to these concerns, it is necessary to enact and harmonise domestic space laws in order to create a safe environment for space exploration in the sense of the legislative structure applicable to them. However, such domestic laws must be harmonized with the ever-evolving International Space Law.
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2 Sarinlaw.com. 2022. [online] Available at: <https://sarinlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Space-Transportation-Policy-June-2020.pdf> [Accessed 30 March 2022].
3 Sarinlaw.com. 2022. [online] Available at: <https://sarinlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Humans-in-Space-Feb-2021.pdf> [Accessed 30 March 2022].
4 Isro.gov.in. 2022. Seeking comments on Draft "Space Activities Bill, 2017" from the stake holders/public -regarding. - ISRO. [online] Available at: <https://www.isro.gov.in/update/21-nov-2017/seeking-comments-draft-space-activities-bill-2017-stake-holders-public-regarding> [Accessed 30 March 2022].
5 Isro.gov.in. 2022. ISRO - Government of India. [online] Available at: <https://www.isro.gov.in/> [Accessed 29 March 2022].
6 Isro.gov.in. 2022. Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center (IN-SPACe) - ISRO. [online] Available at: <https://www.isro.gov.in/indian-national-space-promotion-and-authorization-center-space> [Accessed 30 March 2022].
7 Nsilindia.co.in. 2022. Welcome to NSIL | NSIL. [online] Available at: <https://www.nsilindia.co.in/> [Accessed 30 March 2022].
8 Antrix.co.in. 2022. Welcome to Antrix | Antrix. [online] Available at: <https://www.antrix.co.in/> [Accessed 30 March 2022].