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Space Law: The Law of Outer Space

This guide provides an introduction to researching the law that governs outer space.

Treaties and International Agreements

Table of Contents

UN Treaties on Outer Space

The UN-sponsored treaties that govern the exploration and use of outer space were drafted during the Cold War era at a time when all human activity in space was conducted by state actors.  The growth of the satellite telecommunications industry and the growing interest of private actors in the exploitation of space resources have exposed many gaps in the current legal framework.

For each UN treaty, a link is provided to the relevant treaty page on the website of the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs, from which you may access the full text of the treaty, information about its current status and ratification history, and links to its drafting history (travaux préparatoires).  Citation information and dates of conclusion and entry into force also are provided.  To download the full text of each treaty in PDF format, visit HeinOnline's UN Law Collection database.

  • The Outer Space Treaty
    • Date of Conclusion:  January 27, 1967
    • Date of Entry Into Force:  October 10, 1967
    • Citations:  18 U.S.T. 2410 610 U.N.T.S. 205, 61 I.L.M. 386 (1967)
  • The Rescue Agreement
    • Date of Conclusion:  April 22, 1968
    • Date of Entry Into Force:  December 3, 1968
    • Citations:  19 U.S.T. 7570, 672 U.N.T.S. 119, 7 I.L.M. 149 (1968)
  • The Liability Convention
    • Date of Conclusion:  March 29, 1972
    • Date of Entry Into Force:  September 1, 1972
    • Citations:  24 U.S.T. 2389, 861 U.N.T.S. 187, 10 i.L.M. 965 (1972)
  • The Registration Convention
    • Date of Conclusion:  January 14, 1975
    • Date of Entry Into Force:  September 15, 1976
    • Citations:  28 U.S.T. 695, 1023 U.N.T.S. 15, 14 I.L.M. 43 (1975)
  • The Moon Agreement
    • Date of Conclusion:  December 18, 1979
    • Date of Entry Into Force:  July 11, 1984
    • Citations:  1363 U.N.T.S. 22, 18 I.L.M. 1434 (1979)

Other Multilateral Treaties

  • Convention for the Establishment of a European Space Agency
    This treaty provides the legal basis for the establishment of the ESA and sets forth the scope of its activities and governing structure.
    • Date of Conclusion:  May 30, 1975
    • Date of Entry Into Force:  October 30, 1980
    • Citation:  1297 U.N.T.S. 161 (1975)
  • International Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement
    This treaty provides the legal framework for the development, operation, utilization, and maintenance of the International Space Station. 
    • Date of Conclusion:  January 29, 1998
    • Date of Entry Into Force:  March 27, 2001
    • Citation:  T.I.A.S. 12927 (1998)
  • Cape Town Convention on Interests in Mobile Equipment
    This treaty facilitates asset-based financing of high-value mobile equipment by harmonizing national laws governing security interests in such assets.
    • Date of Conclusion:  November 16, 2001
    • Date of Entry Into Force:  April 1, 2004
    • Citation:  2307 U.N.T.S. 285 (2001)
  • Space Protocol to the Cape Town Convention
    This protocol to the main convention harmonizes laws governing security interests in satellites and other types of space assets.
    • Date of Conclusion:  March 9, 2012
    • The protocol has not yet entered into force.
  • The Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
    This treaty prohibits state parties from testing any nuclear device in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water. 
    • Date of Conclusion:  August 5, 1963
    • Date of Entry Into Force:  October 10, 1963
    • Citations: 14 U.S.T. 1313, 480 U.N.T.S. 43, 2 I.L.M. 889 (1963)

Soft Law Instruments

Soft law instruments include principles and guidelines adopted by the UN General Assembly and by UN agencies.  Although not legally binding, these principles and guidelines are widely followed and adopted by states and by non-state actors.

Key Principles Adopted by the UN General Assembly

The UN Office of Outer Space Affairs has identified the following resolutions adopted by the General Assembly as articulating the key principles that underlie the law of outer space.  A link to the full text of each resolution on the UNOOSA website is provided, along with itsnumber and date of adoption.   Visit HeinOnline's UN Law Collection database to download the full text of each resolution in PDF format.

UNOOSA also maintains this supplemental Directory of Space Law Resolutions and related documentation, as well as this gateway page for National Implementing Mechanisms, which have been enacted by states to implement standards and guidelines outlined in soft law instruments.

PCA Arbitration Rules for Outer Space Disputes

The Permanent Court of Arbitration, a leading venue for the settlement of both inter-state disputes and international commercial disputes between private parties, has promulgated these Optional Rules for the Arbitration of Disputes Relating to Outer Space Activities.  Parties to a dispute arising from space-related activities who retain the PCA to facilitate the resolution of their dispute through arbitration may elect to adopt these rules to govern the arbitral proceedings.

Full Texts of All UN Space Treaties & Soft Law Instruments

Print Compilation of Multilateral & Bilateral Space Treaties and Soft Law Instruments

Space Treaty Analysis, Commentary, and Historical Perspectives