Space law FAQs

Commonly-asked questions about the legal and regulatory aspects of space operations in Australia and internationally.

What is space law?

Space law encompasses an array of international and national laws that regulate space-related objects and activities, and includes:

  • international agreements
  • multilateral and bilateral treaties
  • conventions
  • United General Assembly resolutions
  • principles and declarations
  • rules and regulations of international organisations
  • a growing body of domestic laws enacted by national governments, and
  • case law.

There are five foundational United Nations treaties forming the backbone of international law that governs outer space:

  1. the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies 1967, known as the Outer Space Treaty;
  2. the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space 1968, known as the Rescue and Return Agreement;
  3. the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects 1972, known as the Liability Convention;
  4. the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space 1975, known as the Registration Convention; and
  5. the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies 1979, known as the Moon Agreement.

These treaties deal with issues including state responsibility for activities carried out in space, liability for damage caused by space objects, preservation of the Earth and space environment, settlement of disputes, the sharing of information regarding potential dangers in outer space, the use of space-related technologies and international co-operation.

What regulatory framework governs space activities in Australia?

Australia is subject to the binding international agreements to which it is a signatory, including the five foundational United Nations treaties noted above. Against this backdrop, space activities in Australia are primarily regulated through national domestic legislation:

  1. Space (Launches and Returns) Act 2018 (Cth)
  2. Space (Launches and Returns) (General) Rules 2019 (Cth)
  3. Space (Launches and Returns) (High Power Rocket) Rules 2019 (Cth)
  4. Space (Launches and Returns) (Insurance) Rules 2019 (Cth)

as well as relevant documents referred to by the various Rules.

These laws regulate, among other things, civil space-related activities carried out either from or to Australia, or by Australians overseas, by implementing a licensing regime requiring approvals for those activities. The framework includes various application requirements and criteria for approvals, such as safety standards, and insurance and financial requirements. Regulated activities include space launches, returns from orbit and operating launch facilities.

Who regulates space activities in Australia?

The Australian Space Agency regulates Australia's space and high-power rocket activities. It oversees Australia’s involvement in international arrangements affecting space regulation and the domestic approvals regime for relevant space activities, and deals with compliance requirements, among other things. It was established on 1 July 2018 to coordinate civil space matters across government and support the growth and transformation of Australia's space industry.

Meet Joann Yap

Joann Yap is Space Lead at Lander & Rogers and Director and Chair of the Space Law Council of Australia and New Zealand. She has formal legal training in space law and policy from Harvard University and the University of Adelaide. She is also an experienced corporate lawyer, combining her expertise in transactions and corporate advisory matters with specialist knowledge of space law to deliver strategic advice to space companies, organisations and investors.