The cyberwar threat to outer space sustainability

 The Space Shuttle cockpit shows the electronic complexity that is increasingly a target for cyberattacks on satellites and other space vehicles

The Space Shuttle cockpit shows the electronic complexity that is increasingly a target for cyberattacks on satellites and other space vehicles

 
 

Rules of the Road for Outer Space Sustainability

In 2010, the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the UNCOPUOS formed the Working Group on Long Term Sustainability (LTS) of Outer Space Activities, assigning it the task of formulating voluntary non-binding guidelines focusing on sustainable space utilization, space debris and space operations, space weather, and regulatory regimes. At its June 2016 meeting, the UNCOPUOS approved 12 of the proposed guidelines, while several remain on the UNCOPUOS agenda. Although the LTS Guidelines are voluntary, their adoption by the UNCOPUOS and consideration by the UNGA’s 4th Committee, are evidence of a growing awareness of their potential contribution to the evolution of space law. This paper explores whether the LTS Guidelines could evolve into customary legal norms as part of customary international law (CIL) and steps that could promote that evolution.

The paper we are presenting at the 2018 IAC/IISL in Bremen asks a very large question, “how is the outer space legal regime likely to change over the next 10 years?” While a comprehensive response is beyond the scope of this paper, we propose that a focus on the Long Term Sustainability (LTS) Guidelines will provide particularly prescient clues about regime evolution. In short, while the June 2018 61st session of UNCOPUOS was augmented by a Unispace+50 commemoration and a High Level Forum focusing on space exploration’s contribution to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is rather the sustainability of outer space itself that will drive regime change. In this way, the LTS Guidelines function as a “canary in the coal mine” signaling sovereign states’ awareness of the challenges facing outer space exploration and their willingness to adopt voluntary resolutions as nationally binding policies and regulations that may form the basis for customary international law.