Interstellar Jurisdiction: Charting the Legal Cosmos

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Up above the Earth, beyond the sky, lies the interstellar realm, which also requires legal frameworks to ensure safety and security. Laws governing space, mere like those on Earth and in its waters, provide security for the innocent and accountability for the guilty. This article will explore the complexities of space jurisdiction, the balance of benefits and challenges, current issues, and a futuristic approach to space law.

Using the analogy of a coin, space, too, has its two sides: the good and the not-so-good aspects. This raises the question: what is the purpose of space jurisdiction if it cannot secure space itself? What is the use of treaties, principles, and lawyers if they fail to provide security? As with any analogy, there are positive and negative aspects to consider. To understand the benefits and challenges of space exploration, it is crucial to examine the role of jurisdiction in managing space activities and preventing wrongdoing.

Scientific advancement, economic benefits, global corporations, environment, monitoring, etc are the humanly benefit of space exploration. But what is happening in the space that is being taken in a negative aspect for all the benefit that is happening in human life or on the earth? Space debris are increasing, the pollution by the rocket launches, maybe long time effect that might happen in environment and impact human in future, this also create economic disparities between the countries on the earth. There might be many more negative effects and the positive aspects to be taken in consideration for the space exploration, but here we are to discuss a legal cosmos.

Over the past decade, there have been rapid advancements in the field of space, such as Chandrayaan-1, Mangalyaan, and Astrosat (2015), along with many other orbital pioneers like XPOSATs uncovering the mysteries of the universe. As an Indian, I feel proud to be part of one of the few countries from the developing world making significant contributions to science and technology, including space exploration. While developing countries account for only a small percentage of this growth, the majority of advancements in science and technology come from countries outside the developing world.

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The Legalities of Interstellar: Why They Matter and What They Are


Jurisdiction, as per the chapter 13 section 177-189 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) in India, refers to the authority granted to a court to hear and decide cases within a specific geographical area and over certain types of offenses. It is crucial because it ensures that legal proceedings are conducted in the appropriate court, preventing judicial chaos and ensuring fair trials. Jurisdiction helps in the proper administration of justice, protects the rights of the accused and the victims, and maintains the legal order by clearly delineating the authority of various courts and law enforcement agencies.


Interstellar- refers to the vast expanse of space between stars within a galaxy. It contains gas, dust, cosmic rays, and interstellar clouds, crucial for understanding star formation and galactic dynamics. Exploration of interstellar space provides insights into the universe’s structure, evolution, and potential for extra-terrestrial life.

Jurisdiction in Interstellar

Space: the final frontier. It is a fascinating topic that captures the imagination and curiosity of millions. However, exploring and understanding space requires the collective efforts of some of the brightest minds and bravest souls. It takes the genius of scientists who push the boundaries of our knowledge, the excellence of engineers who design and build the technology needed for space exploration, and the courage of astronauts who venture into the unknown. Together, these dedicated individuals inspire countless people around the world, making space exploration a truly remarkable and compelling field of study.

The governance of space activities involves complex legal frameworks that ensure the peaceful use of outer space and regulate the actions of various stakeholders. As humanity’s presence in space grows, the interplay between legal jurisdiction and space activities becomes increasingly important to address emerging challenges and ensure the sustainable and equitable use of outer space.


There are many more aspects where jurisdiction and space are crucial for each other.

  • Regulation and Governance: Just like in terrestrial affairs, interstellar activities require regulation and governance to ensure order, safety, and fairness. Jurisdiction defines which laws apply to whom and under what circumstances, helping to maintain order and resolve disputes.
  • Resource Allocation: Interstellar travel and exploration may involve the use of resources belonging to different entities or jurisdictions. Determining jurisdiction helps in resolving conflicts over resource allocation, ensuring equitable distribution and preventing resource-related disputes.
  • Legal Protections: Jurisdiction determines the legal protections and rights individuals or entities have when engaging in interstellar activities. This includes protections for property rights, contracts, and individual liberties.
  • International Cooperation: Establishing jurisdictional frameworks fosters international cooperation in interstellar endeavors. It encourages collaboration between different entities, including nations, corporations, and other organizations, in exploring and utilizing resources beyond Earth.
  • Space Exploration: As humanity ventures further into space, jurisdictional agreements become essential for coordinating exploration efforts, managing space traffic, and preventing collisions or conflicts between spacecraft. 
  • Security and Defense: Jurisdiction helps establish security and defense mechanisms to protect assets in space and deter hostile actions. This includes measures to safeguard satellites, space stations, and other critical infrastructure from potential threats

Overall, jurisdiction in interstellar affairs serves to promote order, fairness, and cooperation among the various entities involved in space exploration and exploitation. By establishing clear legal frameworks and regulations, ensures that activities in space are conducted responsibly and ethically. As we continue to venture into space, the importance of robust jurisdictional oversight becomes ever more critical to maintaining a harmonious and progressive approach to exploring and utilizing the final frontier.

What is Interstellar Jurisdiction?         

Probably everyone has seen a Hollywood movie “HigH SeaS” where crooks try to make a break for open sea. Once out in international waters, they think they can’t be convicted of criminal acts because nobody owns the open sea, right? Well, in fact, nobody owns the open sea; it belongs to everyone. However, that doesn’t mean you can commit crimes and get away scot-free.

Long ago, the international community came together and established a mutual agreement that serves as the legal framework for crimes committed on the high seas. After much debate and negotiation, they developed comprehensive guidelines to govern these waters.

Similarly, space operates in much the same way. Space is an open frontier available to every nation for exploration, showcasing each nation’s advancements in science and technology. However, there are legal frameworks and agreements that must be followed, established through treaties and principles set forth by the United Nations.

These agreements ensure that space remains a realm of peaceful and cooperative exploration for all.

The United Nations (UN) has played a significant role in the development of space law since the beginning of the Space Age. The UN recognized the importance of space exploration and utilization, and established the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in 1959 to promote international cooperation and coordination in the exploration and peaceful use of outer space.

COPUOS has been instrumental in the development of international space law, including the negotiation and adoption of several key international treaties and agreements.

These include:

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967: The Outer Space Treaty, formally known as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, is a key international agreement that governs the exploration and use of outer space. It was opened for signature in 1967 and has been ratified by over 100 countries.

The Outer Space Treaty has played a key role in promoting international cooperation and responsible space activities, and has helped to ensure that the benefits of space exploration and utilization are shared by all humankind. It continues to be an important legal instrument in the field of space law today.

The Rescue Agreement of 1968: This agreement provides for the rescue and returns of astronauts and cosmonauts in distress, and establishes the obligation of states to provide assistance to each other in case of accidents or emergencies in space.

The Liability Convention of 1972: This convention establishes the liability of states for damage caused by their space objects, and provides for the indemnification of victims of such damage.

The Registration Convention of 1975: This convention requires states to register their space objects with the UN, and to provide information about the ownership, function, and trajectory of these objects.

The Moon Agreement of 1979: The Moon Treaty, formally known as the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, is an international treaty that was developed under the auspices of the United Nations in 1979. This agreement provides for the regulation of the exploration and use of the Moon and other celestial bodies, and establishes the principle of the common heritage of mankind with regard to the resources of these bodies.

In addition to these treaties and agreements, COPUOS also develops guidelines and recommendations for the peaceful uses of outer space, including space debris mitigation, space weather forecasting, and the use of nuclear power sources in space.

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U.N General Assembly Resolutions

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has adopted several resolutions on space law over the years, reflecting the growing importance of space activities and the need for international cooperation and coordination in this field. Some of the key UNGA resolutions on space law include:

  • Resolution 1721 (XVI) of 1961: This resolution welcomed the establishment of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS).
  • Resolution 1962 (XVIII) of 1963: This resolution recognized the importance of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and called on all states to become parties to this treaty.
  • Resolution 2222 (XXI) of 1966: This resolution welcomed the adoption of the Outer Space Treaty.
  • Resolution 33/38 of 1978: This resolution adopted the Declaration of Principles Governing the Seabed and the Ocean Floor, and the Subsoil Thereof, Beyond the Limits of National Jurisdiction.
  • Resolution 68/74 of 2013: This resolution recognized the importance of space activities for sustainable development.

These resolutions demonstrate the ongoing efforts of the UNGA to promote international cooperation and responsible space activities, and to ensure that the benefits of space exploration and utilization are shared by all humankind.

The Urgency of Space Law

The first-ever crime committed in space involved astronaut Anne McClain, a former Air Force combat pilot. Recently, during her six-month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS), McClain allegedly committed the world’s first space crime.

The incident traces back to Earth, where McClain and her partner were going through a difficult divorce. To monitor her partner’s financial activities, McClain used the ISS internet to log into her partner’s bank account, despite the ongoing divorce proceedings. She then used this information to confront her partner about various aspects of their divorce settlement.

In response, her partner filed a criminal complaint against her, accusing McClain of improperly accessing her finances and stealing her identity to gain access to those financial records. McClain countered these allegations, claiming she was simply overseeing their joint finances as she had done throughout their marriage.

As of now, these are mere allegations, and McClain is innocent until proven guilty. The case remains inconclusive.

The Urgency of Space Law: The Problem of Defining Space Boundaries

One of the biggest challenges in space law is determining where airspace ends and outer space begins, and thus where aviation rules give way to space law.

Consider the following illustration:

|                                       |

|             SPACE    ?        |

|                                       |

|___________________|….. Is this the line..? Or where the line is..?

|                                        |

|             AIR  ?                |

|                                        |


|                                        |

| EARTH …! |

|                                        |

To understand this problem better, imagine a person commits a crime in India and then escapes to China. Which country’s laws apply? The answer is straightforward because the boundaries between countries are clearly defined. But what happens when the boundary is blurred and we can’t decide which laws apply? This is the exact problem we face with space.

There is no universally accepted line that clearly defines where airspace ends and space begins. So, how can a space lawyer decide whether to apply space law or aviation law?

Science alone cannot solve this issue. The Von Kármán line, named after aerospace engineer Theodore von Kármán, is a commonly used concept. It defines the boundary of space as the point where the atmosphere becomes too thin to support aeroplane flight, approximately 100 kilometres (62 miles) above sea level. Recent research, such as Jonathan McDowell’s paper “The Edge of Space: Revisiting the Kármán Line,”[1] suggests this boundary might actually be at around 80 kilometres (50 miles) above sea level.

However, this line is still not universally accepted and remains somewhat blurry. Therefore, it is up to the law, not science, to decide where space officially begins. This legal ambiguity continues to be a significant challenge in the realm of space law.

The Urgency of Space Law: A Historical Perspective

The lack of attention to the boundaries of space led to a significant problem on October 4, 1957, when the USSR launched the “Sputnik” satellite. This event, intensified by the Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, highlighted the urgent need for space law.

At that time, organizations like DARPA and NASA were deeply concerned about space activities. There was a fear that the USSR’s actions could be a precursor to World War III, but no action could be taken because there was no defined line where airspace ended and space began. The Sputnik satellite was beyond the reach of aviation law, emphasizing the need for new rules for space activities and an idea of where space law should begin.

Relevant treaties began to address these issues. The “Convention on International Civil Aviation,” signed in Chicago on December 7, 1944, states in Article 1 that every state has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory.

The 1967 “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies” (commonly known as the Outer Space Treaty) states in Article II that outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, use, occupation, or any other means. In simple terms, nobody owns anything in space. Sputnik thus helped establish a neutral zone known as space.

However, despite these treaties, no consensus has been reached on the exact boundary where space begins. Timothy G. Nelson, a well-known space lawyer, describes the confusion surrounding this issue. There are three primary approaches:

  1. The distance rule, which sets a flat boundary at 100 kilometres.
  2. The Von Kármán line, which is approximately 80 kilometres above sea level and has scientific support.
  3. The orbiting line, which is higher at around 125 kilometres.

The ambiguity of these definitions is problematic, and it’s clear that this blurry line should be clarified. An international court, rather than individual governments or scientific bodies, should make this decision to provide a definitive boundary for space. This issue remains unresolved, highlighting the ongoing need for clear space law.

The Urgency of Space Law: Tackling Orbital Debris

Another pressing issue that necessitates space law is the problem of orbital debris. It is commonly accepted that all nations share the responsibility of maintaining outer space cleanliness, but this responsibility is not equal. Countries that have created the debris must take greater responsibility for clearing it.

Orbital debris has become a significant problem. Scientists estimate that there are many types of debris in orbit that need to be cleaned up. The first reported case of death or injury due to space debris occurred in China in early 1995, on Indian Republic Day, January 26. A Chinese Long March 1 rocket, carrying the Apstar-2 communication satellite, crashed midway to its destination. The descending rocket stage killed a couple and injured several other people.

Incidents like this have raised public awareness about the dangers of space debris.

Overcrowding in outer space is another growing problem. The number of satellites in orbit has been increasing at an annual rate of 10%, which is not sustainable for the environment or for space activities.[2]

Space pollution is not a myth; it is a serious reality. This was dramatically illustrated in the 2013 movie “Gravity,” where debris from a missile strike caused a chain reaction that led to mission abort.

The Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects is a treaty that addresses the cleanup and responsibility for space debris. In the future, this treaty may become more effective as the need for regulation and action becomes more critical.

This issue remains unresolved, emphasizing the urgent need for clear and effective space law to manage and mitigate the risks associated with orbital debris.

New Space Actors for Space Law

Space Tourism: An Emerging Frontier with Challenges

On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to venture into space, seeing the world from a perspective no one had ever experienced before. Since that historic day, only 681 people have travelled to space, mostly trained astronauts, according to the USAF as of February 2024. So far, only seven people have paid for the experience.

In 2001, American entrepreneur Denis Tito spent $20 million for an eight-day trip to the International Space Station (ISS). Initially, NASA refused to train him, deeming it inappropriate for a tourist to go to space. However, Tito partnered with the Russians and flew on the Soyuz TM-32 mission with two cosmonauts. His experience was mesmerizing; he described the Earth as brighter and more radiant against the darkness of space.

While space tourism is currently limited, it has the potential to change dramatically in the near future. Many private companies are developing reusable spacecraft, which could drastically lower costs. Blue Origin, for example, has created the New Sheppard, a capsule with six seats and the largest windows ever seen on a spacecraft. This development signals a future with many benefits for humanity, though it also brings several challenges.

Future Challenges in Space Tourism

  1. Legal Status of Space Tourists: No international space law defines the legal status of space tourists, unlike aviation law. Over half a century after humans first landed on the moon, there still is no clear legal framework. Currently, all space travellers are categorized as astronauts.
  2. Liability Issues: Liability is a major concern in space tourism. According to the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, Article 2 outlines absolute liability, while Article 3 is based on negligence. However, there is no set compensation amount for liability, creating a legal grey area.
  3. Environmental Issues: Space tourism could contribute to pollution and space debris due to less stringent regulations. Increased space travel could exacerbate these issues, negatively impacting the atmosphere and creating debris in space. Regular travel might also contribute to anthropogenic pollution.
  4. Property Rights: Intellectual property rights in space are another critical concern. The Outer Space Treaty protects space objects and state parties in outer space, but it does not protect intellectual property rights. Future treaties may be needed to address this issue.

Espionage in Space: A Growing Concern

One of the most serious problems in space exploration could be the risk of espionage. When the first satellite, Sputnik, was launched, there were suspicions that the USSR was spying on NASA and monitoring U.S. activities. Due to a lack of laws at the time, no action was taken.

In the future, it is possible that countries might launch spacecraft specifically to spy on other nations. This potential threat highlights the need for privacy-related agreements and regulations. As space exploration becomes more common, international cooperation and legal frameworks will be essential to address and prevent espionage activities in space.

The Issue of Moon Land Ownership

The third problem concerns the moon, a celestial body that has fascinated humanity for centuries. The moon’s beauty is often a source of calm and inspiration, and in romantic expressions, people sometimes promise to “bring a piece of the moon.” Surprisingly, some agents claim they can sell land on the moon.

This is problematic because, according to the Moon Agreement, the moon and its resources are the common heritage of mankind, and no one can own any part of it. These dubious claims create confusion and potential legal issues. As this situation gains more attention, governments will need to develop new solutions and agreements to address the issue of moon land ownership properly

Conclusion: Ensuring Space Benefits All Humanity

Space plays a crucial role in advancing science, technology, and socio-economic development for all nations. As space activities increase, it is essential to maintain space as a shared domain for all humanity, as established by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

Promoting peaceful use of outer space and educating new space faring nations about responsible behaviour are critical steps. New entrants should understand and follow international treaties and guidelines, particularly those concerning space debris management. This approach will help address many potential problems and foster a common understanding among all space participants.

By encouraging cooperation and reducing negative competition, we can ensure that space exploration benefits all of humanity,  supports interstellar progress and its jurisdiction to become a peaceful secured and crime free interstellar.

This article is authored by Ms. Aashita Sabikhi, a second-year BA LLB (Hons) student at MSU, passionate about the field of law. Her enthusiasm for legal studies drives her to be a quick learner, always eager to delve into new concepts and broaden her understanding. Her strong social skills enable her to connect with peers and professionals alike, fostering a collaborative learning environment. She believes in self-growth, constantly seeking opportunities for personal and professional development.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How will space colonization affect space law?

Space colonization will necessitate new laws on habitat construction, resource utilization, governance of space communities, and the protection of colonists’ rights.

What role will artificial intelligence (AI) play in future space law?

Future space law will need to address issues related to AI decision-making authority, liability for AI-driven missions, and ethical considerations in space exploration.

What might future treaties focus on in space law?

Future treaties may focus on space traffic management, debris mitigation, planetary protection, and the fair distribution of space resources.

What are the environmental considerations for future space law?

Future space law will need to address the environmental impact of space activities, such as managing space debris, protecting celestial bodies, and promoting sustainable practices.

How might space law adapt to the rapid advancement of technology?

Space law will need to be flexible and adaptive, incorporating new technologies and scientific discoveries while maintaining principles of fairness, safety, and sustainability.

How could space tourism impact space law?

Space law will need to address emerging areas such as space tourism, asteroid mining, space colonization, and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in space missions.

What legal challenges might arise from asteroid mining?

Asteroid mining will present legal challenges related to property rights, resource ownership, environmental impacts, and profit-sharing among nations and private entities.


Journals and Articles



  • Space Law: a treaties by francis lyall 1990

Paper Works

  • Jonathan McDowell’s paper “The Edge of Space: Revisiting the Kármán Line”

[1] McDowell, J. C. (2018). The Edge of Space: Revisiting the Kármán Line. *Acta Astronautica*, 151, 668-677. doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2018.07.004.

[2] Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.


All efforts are made to ensure the accuracy and correctness of the information published at Legally Flawless. However, Legally Flawless shall not be responsible for any errors caused due to oversight or otherwise. The users are advised to check the information themselves.

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