Canada-Finland Space Collaboration: Future Developments Could Produce Legal Minefield for Outer Space Activities

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Canadian companies’ mission to Finland included warning that space activities are not simply a matter of technology. Space industry must keep an eye on international space law or face millions in unexpected costs.

The Canada-Finland Initiative Meeting featuring the Canadian Space Agency, the National Technology Agency of Finland and a delegation of eleven Canadian companies involved in Earth observation activities not only featured the latest news about the future launch of RADARSAT-2 or software designed to better utilise data sent down by various satellites in orbit. The conference which took place in Helsinki, Finland on 3rd October 2006 included a blunt warning by SPACEPOL CEO Gunnar K. A. Njalsson, a legal expert and consultant in Space Law, that much of the current body of internationally agreed United Nations-sponsored treaties forming what is considered by most to be authoritative legislation for outer space could be subject to a major overhaul within ten years.

Growing Rifts Could Trigger Space Law Conflict in Aerospace Industry

SPACEPOL Government Policy Consulting, a subsidiary of the Canadian academic publishing and consulting house, SPACEPOL Academic Publishers, is among the foremost centres involved in researching the future of the laws which govern much of the activities of the aerospace industry in outer space. The company started in Finland in 1998 as the first virtual network for experts in Space Law and Policy and gradually expanded into a commercial centre of excellence based in Quebec City, Canada. SPACEPOL was among the eleven Canadian companies participating in the commercial mission to Finland sponsored by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

“We currently compare the international space law situation to that of the law of the sea during the 1970’s and 1980’s. As more and more countries and companies become active up there, more and more issues of contention arise. There is a growing rift between not only developing and developed countries; but also between purely scientific space activities which have their own requirements of radio silence and non-interference from near Earth objects and commercial activities which inevitably increase in volume, producing more and more dangerous space debris. So the possibilities for conflict are growing exponentially, while the calls for an overhaul to or even an outright abandonment of the current law of outer space are more audible than ever before,” explains SPACEPOL CEO Gunnar K. A. Njalsson who spoke to industry representatives at the conference.

Nordic Aerospace Industry Particularly Vulnerable

Indeed, Njalsson sees a growing possibility of countries simply making bilateral or multilateral treaty agreements and thus opting into their own versions of Space Law in the future as the US, Germany and other countries did in the 1980’s with regard to Law of the Sea. Njalsson sees this as creating the perfect conditions for a growing legal minefield for space activities in the future.

“Without expert assistance and a thorough command of international Space Law and Policy, the aerospace industry is setting itself up for enormous unforeseen economic losses, due to future uncertainty, project delays and even cancellation,” Njalsson warns. In his view, instead of focusing entirely on issues of technology, the aerospace industry must ensure that it addresses issues of risk management in this area, including the cost savings, competitive adaptability and avenues to policy participation that Space Law consultants can provide.

He points out the particular industrial vulnerability of countries such as Finland, Sweden and Norway in this area. According to a recent evaluation by SPACEPOL, Norway (the Norwegian Space Centre) and Finland (TEKES) in particular have failed to adequately prepare themselves for the legal turbulence of the near future, despite the fact that centres of excellence in Space Law are to be found in the Nordic countries.

Canada, Argentina Becoming Pro-active in Space Law Issues

The chief executive officer of SPACEPOL Government Policy Consulting also sees a slight ray of hope for the aerospace industry in Canada, Argentina and other countries. “When we first began discussing this topic in 2003, many of my colleagues at the CSA had no idea of how the Space Law issue fit in. Now there appears to be no question about the importance of having access to expertise in Space Law and Policy. This is a major change in a very short period of time,” Njalsson notes.

BACKGROUNDER

The first body of legislation regarding outer space was the so-called Outer Space Treaty drafted and agreed upon within the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) in 1967. Since then five separate treaties and an equal number of declarations of principles have come to make up what is referred to as the International Law of Outer Space.

SPACEPOL Government POlicy Consulting is a consultancy specialising in this body of legislation and its relevance to the aerospace industry and governments.

More information about Space Law research and technology related topics can be found at the SPACEPOL company website:

http://www.spacepol.ca

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