557 Space Law / Law of Mars

This course will address the past, present and future of space law – from its origins five decades ago, to the current era of explosive growth in spacefaring, to potential future human settlements on Mars and other planets. How well does current space law govern this expanding arena, and what kinds of new governance regimes are needed? The Outer Space Treaty (OST) was signed in 1967 when space exploration was just beginning and focused on the Cold War rivalry between the US and USSR. Today, 114 states are parties to the OST (with smaller numbers having signed its related accords on registration, liability, and other topics), and space activities are booming. Missions to the Moon have now been undertaken by the US, Russia, EU, China, India, and Israel, and missions to Mars by the US, EU, China, and the UAE. The US and Japan have each excavated materials from asteroids and brought samples back to Earth. In 2022, the US and EU launched DART, the first ever asteroid deflection test. Thousands of satellites are now orbiting the Earth, with many more to be added soon – for scientific, navigation, weather, military, intelligence, communications and commercial uses – including many operated by private actors such as SpaceX/Starlink and Amazon/Blue Origin. Non-state actors are developing their own terms for space rules. New space law is being developed, such as the Artemis Accords (2020; signed by 29 countries as of 2023), and the US statute on space resource ownership (2015). States and private actors are mulling plans to settle human communities on the Moon and Mars. Is the OST still adequate? What new approaches are needed?

We will investigate what current laws say about these efforts, and what will or should be the legal rules and norms for future missions and settlements off the Earth. Among the challenges for space law today are: reducing dangerous space debris in Earth orbit, and environmental impacts of launches; defining property rights to space resources, and liability for harm, thus motivating investment while avoiding resource depletion and ensuring equitable access; managing international space relations, space-based energy systems, climate engineering, and avoiding war in space; defending against large asteroid collisions and space weather; protecting against harmful contamination of the Earth and of other planets; considering whether to terraform other planets; and charting the legal rules for potential human settlements on the Moon, Mars, or other off-Earth locations (including laws for accidents, crimes, health, environment, marriage, divorce, citizenship, etc.). Envisioning and debating future space law off-Earth may also offer a useful lens for reforming laws on Earth today. And we will discuss who should decide these laws – e.g., each government that sends settlers, or each private company, or an international agreement, or the settlers themselves in their new home.

Students will write short and medium length papers (no exam). Grad/prof students outside the Law School may enroll if ‘space’ allows. No prerequisites.

Course Areas of Practice
Evaluation Methods
  • Reflective Writing
  • Research and/or analytical paper(s), 10-15 pages
  • Class participation
Degree Requirements
Course Type
  • Seminar
Learning Outcomes
  • Knowledge and understanding of substantive and procedural law
  • Legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, problem-solving, and written and oral communication in the legal context

Spring 2024

2024
Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor

557.01 2
  • Reflective Writing
  • Research and/or analytical paper(s), 10-15 pages
  • Class participation
Jonathan B. Wiener

This course will address the past, present and future of space law – from its origins five decades ago, to the current era of explosive growth in spacefaring, to potential future human settlements on Mars and other planets.  How well does current space law govern this expanding arena, and what kinds of new governance regimes are needed?  The Outer Space Treaty (OST) was signed in 1967 when space exploration was just beginning and focused on the Cold War rivalry between the US and USSR.  Today, 114 states are parties to the OST (with smaller numbers having signed its related accords on registration, liability, and other topics), and space activities are booming.  Missions to the Moon have now been undertaken by the US, Russia, EU, China, India, and Israel, and missions to Mars by the US, EU, China, and the UAE.  The US and Japan have each excavated materials from asteroids and brought samples back to Earth.  In 2022, the US and EU launched DART, the first ever asteroid deflection test. Thousands of satellites are now orbiting the Earth, with many more to be added soon – for scientific, navigation, weather, military, intelligence, communications and commercial uses – including many operated by private actors such as SpaceX/Starlink and Amazon/Blue Origin.  Non-state actors are developing their own terms for space rules.  New space law is being developed, such as the Artemis Accords (2020; signed by 29 countries as of 2023), and the US statute on space resource ownership (2015).  States and private actors are mulling plans to settle human communities on the Moon and Mars.  Is the OST still adequate?  What new approaches are needed?

We will investigate what current laws say about these efforts, and what will or should be the legal rules and norms for future missions and settlements off the Earth.  Among the challenges for space law today are:  reducing dangerous space debris in Earth orbit, and environmental impacts of launches; defining property rights to space resources, and liability for harm, thus motivating investment while avoiding resource depletion and ensuring equitable access; managing international space relations, space-based energy systems, climate engineering, and avoiding war in space; defending against large asteroid collisions and space weather; protecting against harmful contamination of the Earth and of other planets; considering whether to terraform other planets; and charting the legal rules for potential human settlements on the Moon, Mars, or other off-Earth locations (including laws for accidents, crimes, health, environment, marriage, divorce, citizenship, etc.).  Envisioning and debating future space law off-Earth may also offer a useful lens for reforming laws on Earth today.  And we will discuss who should decide these laws – e.g., each government that sends settlers, or each private company, or an international agreement, or the settlers themselves in their new home.  

Students will write short and medium length papers (no exam).  Enrollment limited to 16 (grad/prof students outside the Law School may enroll if ‘space’ allows).  No prerequisites. 

Pre/Co-requisites
None

*Please note that this information is for planning purposes only, and should not be relied upon for the schedule for a given semester. Faculty leaves and sabbaticals, as well as other curriculum considerations, will sometimes affect when a course may be offered.