Space law is no longer beyond this world

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Space may be the "final frontier" but the legal ramifications of what happens in space are now very much a reality – and they've also become the subject of teaching and research at the University of Adelaide.

For the first time, the University will run a short, intensive postgraduate course on Strategic Space Law as part of this year's Winter School program.

The one-week course, which is available to Masters in Law students and also members of the public (on an auditing basis), will cover military and non-military aspects of space, and will feature a visit to the remote area of Woomera, South Australia's most famous space science region.

The course has been jointly developed with McGill University in Montreal, and will involve expert presenters from around Australia and Canada.

"People think of space as large and empty, but it's becoming crowded and much 'closer' to us in a legal and social sense," says co-organiser Professor Melissa de Zwart from the University of Adelaide's Law School.

"We're now more sophisticated in our use of space – from telecommunications, to GPS systems, and military spy technology. There are plans to change how we live on earth by using space, and considerations about the future of human involvement in space, such as space tourism, or bases on the Moon and Mars. This presents a wide range of legal issues," she says.

"For example, what if an Australian injures a North Korean on the International Space Station, which legal regime applies? What happens if one country’s satellite crashes into another’s – who is to blame, and what recourse is there to claim damages?"

Co-organiser Associate Professor Dale Stephens from the Adelaide Law School says the short course is also an important step towards furthering research and teaching into this field. "Military uses of space are expanding, especially in the context of weapons capability and satellite use. This is a largely unregulated area and there exist real conceptual and practical questions about how laws designed to regulate military operations on earth can apply in space. This course will examine those issues in detail," Associate Professor Stephens says.

"We are now working with a consortium of universities in Canada and the US on the legal ramifications of space. Our work will contribute towards the drafting of a report on space law developments, which we hope will be presented as an annual update to the United Nations General Assembly," he says.

Strategic Space Law will be run at the University of Adelaide from 29 June–3 July. More information can be found at the Adelaide Law School's website:


Contact Details

Professor Melissa de Zwart
Dean of Law
Adelaide Law School
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5172
Mobile: +61 (0)419 134 507

Professor Dale Stephens
Director, Research Unit on Military Law and Ethics
Adelaide Law School
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5937
Mobile: +61 (0)407 803 534

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762