What Law Governs the International Space Station?
Like many other geeky lawyer types, I have been scanning the arguments in the Supreme Court today for cluses about the ultimate result in Boumediene. But I couldn’t resist posting about this neat article about legal questions arising out of European participation on the International Space Station.
The space station currently exists as a legal patchwork of about 16 sovereign territories – modules and hardware belonging to the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan – joined together to form one orbital research platform. Each nation has legal authority over its part of the space station, as stated in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. But no single European nation’s law will hold sway over the ESA’s Columbus laboratory module, which is slated to launch into orbit aboard the space shuttle Atlantis Dec. 6, and there is no one overarching European law.
However, astronaut lawbreakers won’t languish in limbo. Earlier this year, European legal experts agreed on a set of legal rules for Columbus during an conference entitled “Humans in Outer Space – Interdisciplinary Odysseys.”
Although astronauts are an exceptionally well-behaved group, other legal concerns may arise. An invention created by an enterprising astronaut on ISS will be patented in the nation that has jurisdiction over the module where work took place, not the nation of the inventor. Innovators onboard Columbus will have a choice of patenting their work in either Germany or Italy – although European patent agreements make this distinction less important.
I have to find it a bit amusing that the ISS is a series of different legal jurisdictions rather than a single jurisdiction. But I doubt any other approach is practical. National law and national jurisdiction, it seems, will always endure, even in outer space.