Timiebi Aganaba Sees Growth for the Space Law Industry
With issues like climate change, commercial spaceflight and space colonization being broached by commercial space companies, a specific branch of law is growing to help the space industry and global governments navigate complex legal questions.
Timiebi Aganaba, an assistant professor of Space and Society at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, started her career as a lawyer at the Nigerian Space Research and Development Agency and is now at the forefront of the growth in the space law industry.
According to Aganaba, international space law is primarily “public international law that governs how countries relate to each other with respect to space activities.”
Currently, the basis for space law rests on the Outer Space Treaty, an agreement that 111 countries are party to as of 2021. The treaty created the basic framework for international space law in 1966.
The Outer Space Treaty directly impacts how space law affects the actions of the commercial space industry. In space law, nations are directly internationally responsible for their national activities, even those that occur in the private sector.
“It’s not like other activities in international law where there’s a difference between the government and the private sector,” Aganaba said. “In space, they’re both completely connected.”
Space law helps nations maintain their responsibilities to their research and their international activities through authorization, supervision and regulation of their private actors. However, many of the activities conducted by the commercial space industry are new to everyone, making authorization, supervision and regulation difficult.
“Where (space law) is going to evolve, is figuring out as these new activities are coming online, who is going to be the regulator and how will these activities be characterized,” Aganaba said.
While regulation is necessary to protect all parties, it can also stifle innovation or benefit one party’s interests over another’s. This is where space lawyers are looking to strike a balance.
“There’s no hierarchy between space activities, no one activity is more important than the other,” Aganaba said. “So, how do you balance the competing interests of all the different actors?”
Another question that arises in the conversation about space law and the commercial space industry is environmental regulation. Space law can be wielded to protect the environment of space or even contribute to the fight against climate change.
Aganaba cited recent projects and studies that use satellite data to examine the effects of climate change to create solutions but noted that these can only do so much.
“There’s a lot of technological fixes to the problem, but the industry itself has to think about its footprint, right?” Aganaba said.
While the commercial space industry faces environmental growing pains, the space law industry is experiencing its own growing pains related to the future of space.
“Now, we’re going to have to figure out, with the diversification of actors, how we balance all these new competing interests, and the fact that space is becoming more and more commercialized, while it’s still also heavily militarized,” Aganaba said.
With all of this growth and innovation surrounding space, space law is searching for new perspectives to join the field and help devise creative solutions to these new problems.
“We’re looking for people that come from all professional areas, other areas of law to come into space because it’s now becoming something for the general public,” Aganaba said.
As the commercial space and space law industries grow together, there’s an opportunity for growth in the right direction. Aganaba hopes the two fields will diversify and unite for a common goal: the idea that space is for the benefit of all.
For more information, visit the ASU Space Governance Lab website.
Written by Reagan Priest for ASU NewSpace
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