Future uses of outer space and environmental law

Melissa de Zwart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


NASA announced in May 2020 that it would be returning humans to the Moon by 2024. The goal of landing the next man and the first woman on the Moon would be part of the Artemis program, with the ultimate goal being a crewed mission to Mars. Australia, along with seven other foundation partners, signed on to the Artemis Accords and it was recently announced that Australia would be sending a robotic rover to the Moon in conjunction with NASA as part of the enhanced collaboration under these arrangements. That rover will be used to collect and transfer the rock and dust (known as “regolith”) which comprises the lunar surface as part of the NASA in-situ resource utilisation program. China and Russia have also announced their intention to establish a crewed lunar base. All of these interactions with outer space — robotic, crewed, and remote — raise issues with respect to access to, use and protection of the space environment. Further, recent months have witnessed the escalation in the launch of increasingly large constellations of small satellites, which have been observed in the night sky and have posed problems for astronomers, observatories, navigators and others. These rapid deployments have raised questions regarding the sustainability of the finite orbital locations around the Earth and even created concerns regarding the risk that space debris and congestion in Low Earth Orbit (“LEO”) poses to continued access to space. Whilst space appears vast, specific orbits support specific uses. For example, geosynchronous orbit, at an altitude of 35,786 kms, provides a satellite with an orbit that matches the rotation of the Earth, creating the effect of the satellite remaining above the same location on Earth at all times. This means only a limited number of orbital slots will be available to suit a particular purpose. All of these issues relate to the laws and regulations applicable to the domain we regard as outer space, yet the characterisation of the space domain and its environment remains conceptually opaque under international law...
Original languageEnglish
Article numberAE112
Pages (from-to)112-116
Number of pages5
JournalAustralian Environment Review
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • Space industry
  • Space ethics
  • Environmental law
  • International Law
  • Regulation


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