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  • Writer's pictureKiran Mohan Vazhapully

UH: Global Space Law and Policy Newsletter, Vol. 3 (2)

Updated: Dec 2, 2023

WRC 23: A Turning Point in Global Telecom Agenda-Setting

The World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23), currently underway in Dubai, is a significant event in the global telecommunications landscape. This piece aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the key issues and dynamics at play in the conference.

The Stakes at WRC-23

Shaping the Future of Mobile and Space Communications

WRC-23 focuses on critical decisions regarding the allocation of frequencies and effective spectrum management. This year's conference is crucial for the evolution of 5G and emerging 6G networks, requiring a re-examination of spectrum requirements, particularly in the mid-band frequencies. These decisions will significantly impact the growth and capabilities of these technologies.

Geopolitical Dimensions and National Security

The conference is not just about technical specifications; it's intertwined with geopolitical concerns. For instance, the U.S. delegation is focused on issues like the protection of Defense Department radars and facilitating spectrum use for future military missions. There's also a complex dynamic involving major powers like China, Russia, and the U.S., especially around technologies like low Earth orbit (LEO) mega-constellations.

Key Challenges and Discussions

Spectrum Allocation for 5G and Beyond

A critical part of WRC-23 is determining the allocation of spectrum for advanced mobile technologies. This includes identifying specific frequency bands and addressing the needs of both 5G Advanced and 6G networks. The conference's outcome will shape how these technologies evolve and are implemented globally.

Satellite Communications and Space Industry

WRC-23 also addresses issues vital to the space industry. There's an ongoing battle between satellite operators and terrestrial telcos over spectrum allocation. With the growth of satellite constellations and businesses, space companies face challenges not only from terrestrial competitors but also from within the space sector itself.

Opportunities and Advancements

Enhancing Satellite Communications

The conference isn't all about challenges; there are opportunities too. Proposals under discussion could unlock additional spectrum for satellite services, facilitating more extensive and effective use of space-based communications. These include enabling satellites to communicate with each other in parts of the Ka-band and extending regulatory frameworks for geostationary satellites.

Improving Global Connectivity

WRC-23 has agenda items that could significantly enhance connectivity, especially in developing countries. These include extending frameworks for Earth Stations in Motion (ESIM) and ensuring equitable access to spectrum for launching and operating future NGSO constellations. Such measures can help bridge the digital divide and improve access to telecommunications services globally.

WRC-23 represents a critical juncture in the management of global telecommunications. The conference's decisions will not only shape the future of mobile technologies but also have significant implications for the space industry and global connectivity. Balancing the needs of various stakeholders, from national security concerns to the growth of the telecommunications and space industries, WRC-23 highlights the complexity and importance of international collaboration in spectrum management. The outcomes of these discussions will reverberate across industries and nations, underscoring the dynamic nature of global communications and its profound impact on the future.

Space Regulation Overhaul in the US: The White House's Proposed Split of Mission Authorization

The White House, under a new proposal from the National Space Council, is set to redefine the regulatory landscape of commercial space activities. Announced on November 15, this proposal aims to divide the authorisation and oversight responsibilities between the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Commerce (DOC). DOT, via the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, will oversee human spaceflight activities, including commercial space stations and lunar missions. Meanwhile, DOC’s Office of Space Commerce will expand its purview to include uncrewed spacecraft activities, such as in-space servicing, assembly, manufacturing, and debris removal.

This move comes as a response to the growing need for clear regulatory paths in the burgeoning space industry, particularly in novel space applications. It is in line with the obligations of the Outer Space Treaty (Art. VI). U.S. officials express that this legislation aims to create a supportive environment for commercial space expansion.

However, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) has voiced opposition to this proposal, raising concerns over potential confusion and bureaucratic complexities. They argue that the split could lead to duplicative and conflicting requirements between the two departments, causing uncertainty in licensing processes. CSF advocates for a unified approach under the Office of Space Commerce, favouring a streamlined, light-touch regulatory framework. This stance aligns with the Commercial Space Act of 2023, introduced by the Republican leadership of the House Science Committee, which suggests a certification process led by the Office of Space Commerce.

The proposal and its reception underscore the delicate balance between fostering innovation in the commercial space sector and ensuring safe, coordinated oversight in line with international commitments. As the industry evolves rapidly, the need for effective regulation becomes increasingly crucial, shaping the future trajectory of space exploration and utilisation. Sources:

EU Endorses "Space Strategy for Security and Defence"

The European Union has recently endorsed its first common space defense strategy, marking a significant shift in its approach to space assets' security. This strategy, titled "Space Strategy for Security and Defence," was initially drafted in March by the European Commission and subsequently approved by the European Council, comprising member nation heads of state, the council’s president, and the commission’s president. This council is responsible for setting the political direction and priorities for the EU.

Key Aspects of the EU Space Strategy:

1. Increased Awareness and Response Capabilities: The strategy calls on the 27 EU member nations to enhance their awareness of space threats and bolster their capabilities to respond if necessary. This move reflects a growing recognition of the strategic importance of space, a domain that is increasingly becoming congested and contested.

2. Concerns Over Hostile Actions in Space: The strategy document highlights the intensification of irresponsible and hostile behaviour in space, notably referencing Russia's 2021 anti-satellite missile test and the cyber-attacks against Viasat’s communications network in 2022 during Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. These incidents underscore the necessity for the EU to provide immediate and long-term responses to such challenges.

3. Coordination and Annual Threat Analysis: The European Commission High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell is proposed to lead a new initiative for preparing a classified annual space threat landscape analysis, focusing on actors threatening the EU in the space domain. This analysis aligns with managing the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and its Common Security and Defence Policy.

4. Joint Response and EU's Sovereignty: The strategy emphasises the need for a joint response to space threats and maintains the importance of "technical sovereignty" of the EU space industrial base and supply chain. This includes encouraging the commission to develop a roadmap for future innovation to reduce strategic dependencies on critical technologies for ongoing and future space projects in the EU.

5. Context and Significance: This strategy is a response to the evolving nature of space as a contested domain, highlighted by the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. The EU Member States have committed to adopting this strategy to bolster the security and defence dimensions of the EU in space. This commitment has led to increased development and use of space assets for defence and security objectives over the past decade. The strategy also seeks to enhance partnerships on space security with allies like the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The adoption of this strategy indicates a significant shift in the EU’s approach to space, moving from a primarily civilian-centric, economically and technically focused policy towards a more defence-oriented perspective. This change addresses the concerns of some member states, like Belgium and Germany, which have historically opposed the weaponisation of space, and reflects the EU's interest in protecting its sovereignty in defense policy and military decision-making. The strategy’s focus on maintaining the technical sovereignty of the EU’s space industry amidst challenges like delays and test failures in major EU space programs also highlights a desire to reduce dependency on external entities for critical space technologies.

For those who wish to dive deeper, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) provides a comprehensive analysis of this strategy. SIPRI's analysis highlights the shift towards recognising space as a strategic domain, underscoring the EU's commitment to developing and utilising space assets for security and defence objectives. This move represents a significant evolution from the EU's traditionally civilian-centric space policy, reflecting a growing understanding of the importance of space in modern defence and security. The analysis also points out the potential challenges and the need for coordinated efforts among EU member states to ensure the effective implementation of this strategy, marking a new phase in the EU's approach to space and defence.

Space Industry Unites Against Orbital Debris Threat

The Space Industry Statement, coordinated by the Secure World Foundation, marks a significant stance in the pursuit of space sustainability. Released on November 14, 2023, it garners support from 26 companies across eight countries, advocating against destructive anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missile testing. Emphasising the critical reliance on space services and the need for their protection, the statement aligns with the global commitment by 37 countries, including EU member states, to avoid actions that create long-lasting orbital debris. This initiative underscores the industry's role in fostering economic growth in low Earth orbit and beyond, ensuring the safe, long-term sustainability of space activities. The statement is open for more signatories, reflecting a growing international consensus towards responsible space operations.

You can learn more and watch the event recording on Secure World Foundation’s YouTube channel.

Varda's Orbital Quandary: A Regulatory Maze in Space

In an unfolding space story, Varda Space Industries faces a regulatory bottleneck that has left its spacecraft, loaded with manufactured pharmaceuticals, stranded in orbit. Initially, Varda's mission was to showcase the potential of in-space manufacturing, with the aim of returning a capsule containing ritonavir, an HIV treatment drug, to Earth. This ambitious project, however, has hit a regulatory wall, underscoring the complexities of space law and policy in the new era of commercial space activities.

The U.S. Air Force denied Varda's request to land its capsule at a Utah training area, and similarly, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) refused to grant a commercial space license, citing non-compliance with regulatory requirements. While Varda remains in collaboration with regulators, seeking to bring the capsule back, the delay extends as the FAA's reconsideration of its decision is pending.

The situation highlights the evolving challenges in space regulation, particularly for novel ventures. Varda had considered multiple landing sites, but only the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR) met all its criteria. Despite UTTR's history with similar missions, Varda's frequent reentry plan (monthly by 2026) poses new questions for regulators, emphasising the need to set precedents for future commercial reentry activities. This indicates a broader trend where regulatory frameworks are struggling to keep pace with rapid innovations in space technology and business models.

Varda's predicament illustrates the crucial balance that needs to be struck in space regulation: fostering innovation and commercial ventures while ensuring safety, security, and sustainability. It also sheds light on the intricate interplay between different regulatory bodies and the importance of a cohesive approach to manage the burgeoning commercial space sector. As space becomes an increasingly contested and congested domain, incidents like these serve as pivotal learning moments for regulators and industry alike, shaping the future of space governance.


U.S. Senate Passes Bill to Clean Up Space Junk

The Orbital Sustainability (ORBITS) Act, a significant bipartisan bill aimed at addressing the escalating issue of space debris, has recently passed the U.S. Senate unanimously. Spearheaded by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, along with Senators John Hickenlooper, Cynthia Lummis, Roger Wicker, and Kyrsten Sinema, this legislation represents a critical step towards enhancing the safety and sustainability of space activities. The bill was introduced in February 2023 and passed the Senate Commerce Committee in July before being approved by the Senate.

Key Points of the ORBITS Act:

1. Establishment of a NASA Program for Debris Removal: Central to the ORBITS Act is the directive for NASA to establish an active debris removal program. This includes a demonstration project that awards competitive grants for research, development, and demonstration of technologies focused on removing selected orbital debris. Additionally, NASA is required to partner in a demonstration mission to remove debris, effectively accelerating the development of necessary technologies.

2. Department of Commerce's Role in Identifying Risky Debris: The Department of Commerce Office of Space Commerce (OSC) is tasked with publishing a list of debris posing the greatest risk to orbiting spacecraft. This prioritization is crucial for effective debris removal efforts.

3. Updating Orbital Debris Mitigation Standards: The bill initiates a multi-agency effort to update existing orbital debris standards applicable to government systems. This is an essential step in ensuring consistency in regulations concerning orbital debris across various agencies.

4. Space Traffic Coordination Development: The ORBITS Act requires the OSC, in collaboration with the National Space Council and Federal Communications Commission, to encourage the development of practices for coordinating space traffic. This measure aims to prevent collisions in space that can create further debris.

The ORBITS Act's passage is a response to the growing concerns over orbital debris, which currently includes approximately 8,000 metric tons of space junk, with at least 900,000 individual pieces of debris potentially lethal to satellites. This debris not only threatens human space exploration and scientific research missions but also poses risks to emerging commercial space services. Recent incidents, like a car-sized object landing in Australia and space junk crashing into a farmer’s property in Washington state, underscore the urgency of addressing this issue.

Senator Cantwell emphasised the need for technological development to remove the most dangerous space junk before it causes significant harm, either by knocking out a scientific satellite, threatening a NASA mission, or falling to the ground and injuring individuals. Senator Hickenlooper highlighted the importance of addressing both space junk and bureaucratic hurdles to maintain American leadership in space innovation.

As the bill now moves to the House for consideration, its passage marks a crucial step in the ongoing efforts to ensure the long-term sustainability and safety of space activities.


GSOA Releases Code of Conduct for Space Sustainability

The Global Satellite Operators Association (GSOA) has released a pioneering Code of Conduct aimed at promoting space sustainability. Announced on November 13, 2023, this comprehensive set of guidelines urges satellite operators to adopt responsible practices to safeguard the space environment. The Code of Conduct addresses four key areas of space sustainability:

1. Mitigating In-orbit Collision Risks: Operators are encouraged to share information about trackable debris, whether generated by their operations or not, to reduce the likelihood of collisions in space.

2. Minimizing Non-Trackable Debris: The Code advises operators to consider the entire lifecycle of their spacecraft, from design to de-orbit, to prevent satellites from becoming debris.

3. Protecting Human Life in Space: Operators are tasked with ensuring that astronauts are not endangered by their operations.

4. Limiting Impact on Optical Astronomy: A collaborative approach is recommended between operators and astronomers to minimize adverse effects on ground-based optical astronomy while maintaining the provision of satellite services.

This initiative underscores the satellite industry's critical role in bridging the digital divide and connecting remote areas. With satellite broadband users expected to double to 500 million by 2030, the GSOA highlights the importance of sustainable practices in the rapidly growing satellite sector. The Code of Conduct represents an important step in identifying best practices to preserve space for future generations and ensure the continued socio-economic benefits of satellite technology, valued at over US$250 billion globally.

ESA Releases Zero Debris Charter

In related news, the European Space Agency (ESA) has unveiled the Zero Debris Charter, a groundbreaking initiative aimed at advancing space safety and sustainability. This Charter, developed through a collaborative process involving over 40 space actors, is a significant step beyond existing guidelines like the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) and the Space Safety Coalition (SSC).

Key Distinctions of the Zero Debris Charter:

1. Unified Probability Target: The Charter introduces a single lifetime probability target for space debris generation events (either breakup or collision), streamlining the approach compared to the IADC and SSC, which separate these probabilities.

2. Higher Post-Mission Disposal Standard: The Charter sets a 99% probability standard for post-mission disposal of objects in all orbital regions, surpassing the IADC's 90% standard for Low Earth Orbit (LEO) objects.

3. Aggregate Probability Thresholds for Constellations: It establishes aggregate probability thresholds for satellite constellations, acknowledging that even a small probability of debris event per satellite can lead to a high likelihood of at least one failure in large constellations.

4. Recognition of Dark and Quiet Skies: The Charter uniquely acknowledges the impact of space debris on artificial night sky brightness, aligning the interests of satellite operators and astronomers in reducing space debris.

Read the Charter here.

ESA has also has released an update to their Space Debris Mitigation Standards.

Thank you, Andrew Williams, for posting this information on LinkedIn.

Exciting Opportunity: Online Training in Air and Space Law!

We are thrilled to announce an upcoming training programme that delves into the fascinating realms of Air Law and Space Law. As a space law and policy expert, I'm particularly excited to be speaking in the space law segment of this programme. Here are the key details:

🚀 Air Law Course: An Introduction

- Date: 9th December 2023

- Format: Online, featuring live and real-time interaction with lecturers.

- Content: This 1-day course offers a comprehensive overview of air transport regulation, from the early days of the Chicago Convention to the modern era of deregulation. It covers critical aspects like liability, leasing, environment, safety, and security.

- Fees: EUR 49 for Students, EUR 99 for Professionals, EUR 149 for Corporates (excluding VAT).

- Special Offer: 15% discount for Professionals and Corporates enrolling in both air and space law courses.

🌌 Space Law Course: An Introduction

- Date: 10th December 2023

- Format: Online, featuring live and real-time interaction with lecturers.

- Content: This 1-day course provides insights into national and international laws governing space activities, including liability, environment, technology, safety, and security.

- Fees: EUR 49 for Students, EUR 99 for Professionals, EUR 149 for Corporates (excluding VAT).

- Scholarships: Financial assistance is available for 15 students and 5 professionals, covering 100% of the fees. Applicants must submit a resume and a short write-up (max.150 words) explaining their interest in these areas of law and how the lectures could benefit them. Application deadline: 6th December 2023.

For more details on both courses and to avail of the discounts, visit

Don't miss this unique opportunity to expand your knowledge in these critical areas of law. Please share this information within your networks to reach enthusiasts and professionals who might benefit greatly from this programme.

Interesting Read

Exploring the competitive landscape of the new space race, this Forbes article delves into the growing demand for diverse launch options. As customers seek reliable and cost-effective ways to enter space, emerging players and established giants are vying for dominance. This piece offers a unique insight into the dynamic market of space launches.



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