Legal challenges relating to the commercial use of outer space, with specific reference to space tourism
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Since the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 in 1957, the outer space arena has evolved to include non-state entities, which are becoming serious participants in outer space activities themselves, including venturing into the space tourism market. Although space tourism is still in its infancy, it is estimated that the number of space tourists will substantially increase within the next few years. As space tourist activities increase, accidents will inevitably occur, which will give rise to legal questions relating to the duty of states to rescue space tourists in distress, and the liability for damages. This contribution points out that the current outer space treaty regime, which focuses on the use of outer space by states, is to a large extent outdated and that it cannot adequately deal with the unique legal challenges presented by the rapidly developing space tourism industry. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the outer space legal framework is very fragmented – consisting of treaties, UN principles and guidelines, regional regulations and intergovernmental agreements, as well as national guidelines and legislation. In order to ensure that space tourism is indeed to the benefit of all mankind, it is imperative that clear international legal rules relating to space tourism be formulated, where standards are set for the authorisation and supervision of commercial space activities and the interests of states, passengers and private actors are balanced as far as possible. In view of the urgent need to address these legal questions and the consequent lack of time to negotiate a binding legal instrument, it is submitted that, as an interim measure, soft law guidelines should be developed in relation to space tourism in order to provide a framework for the 2 eventual creation of a consolidated and binding legal instrument on all aspects relating to the use and exploration of outer space.
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