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Government and ministries

Law for space: Why is a Finnish Space Act needed?

8.5.2017 12.52
Column

We often think of space activities as astronauts floating weightless, spectacular satellite launches, and the International Space Station ISS which looks almost like a LEGO model. None of these have been associated with Finland, even if Finnish technology has in fact been used in numerous scanners and satellites launched to space and on the ISS. However, space objects launched by Finland or Finnish organisations have been lacking.

Now this is changing. As satellites are getting smaller, about the size of a one-litre milk carton, and launches are getting cheaper, new players are entering the field, including universities and students working on their academic degrees and companies seeking new business opportunities. The first Finnish satellites of the Aalto University are to be launched soon.

“A satellite of our own! Are there any rules for this?”, wonders a lawyer.Maija Lönnqvist

Finland is bound by the UN Space Treaties concluded in the 1960s and 1970s. The most significant ones are the Outer Space Treaty, the Liability Convention and the Registration Convention. Finland is party to the first two, and joining the Registration Convention is in process.

According to the UN Treaties, space shall be free for all states for exploration and use, following the principles of equality, cooperation and exclusive use for peaceful purposes. Each state using space is responsible for its own space activities. Besides their own activities, the responsibility of the states extends to the activities of private stakeholders within their jurisdiction, such as companies, universities and citizens. Space activities may only be practised under state authorization and control.

According to the treaties, the states are also liable for any damage caused by space objects. Objects launched to space must be entered to a national and UN register.

“State’s liability”...”, a lawyer exclaims. “We need to pass an act on this!”

The UN Space Treaties set out rights and obligations for the states only. At first only states were engaged in space activities, but today satellites are more and more often owned and operated by private parties. To extend the obligations in the Space Treaties to the private parties, several states have passed a national Space Act.

Within the EU national space acts have been adopted in Austria, Denmark, France, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The United States and Russia have highly comprehensive legislation on space activities. Besides the traditional space nations, space acts have been adopted by states where universities or companies have been involved in small satellite launches.

By national legislation the states implement the international obligations as responsibilities of the other stakeholders via authorization, registration and control procedures. The acts also enable the states to manage the risks involved in space activities by requiring advance risk analyses, by claiming additional insurances, where considered necessary, and by retaining the right of recourse against the operator with respect to any damages paid.

Space offers huge business opportunities for companies. By national space legislation the states can boost the development of the field by providing a clear framework for private activities in space and flexible authorization and registration procedures. In a good Space Act there is a balance between responsibilities of the state and favourable conditions for space activities.

Maija Lönnqvist
Senior Legal Counsel
20.3.2017

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Maija Lönnqvist is a Senior Legal Counsel at the Enterprise and Innovation Department of the Ministry of Economic Affairs
and Employment. She is the secretary of the working group preparing the national space legislation. She is also
a Finnish delegate to the Administrative and Finance Committee of the European Space Agency ESA.

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