Committees in the U.S. Congress are addressing the question of whether the nation should withdraw from or propose amendments to the Outer Space Treaty. The intended purpose of these actions would be to support more rapid development of space commerce.
“The treaty does not directly address orbital debris mitigation and remediation or enable salvage in space,” senior policy analyst Dr. James Vedda said, noting that the treaty also has the potential to inhibit commercial space development due to concerns about property rights.
However, Vedda urges caution. “It is difficult to identify any significant, enduring benefits to the U.S. from unilateral withdrawal” from the treaty. “From the commercial development perspective, this action increases risk by removing current protections without enabling commensurate benefits.”
Amendment of the treaty also has risks. It would require considerable time and effort, without a guarantee that the end results would be better than what is already in place. “The amendment process may not remain limited to the one or two issues that prompted it,” Vedda said. The treaty has numerous signatories with different stakes and objectives in space, “any one of which could bring up its own amendments, which could be objectionable to the major stakeholders.”
Executive Director of the Center for Space Policy and Strategy Jamie Morin observed, “Space capabilities and ambitions are growing worldwide with more than a hundred nations now party to the Outer Space Treaty. Objectively evaluating the complexities involved in reopening an agreement like this is exactly the sort of problem our Center is dedicated to studying in order to help inform policymakers.”
After a half century, the Outer Space Treaty is starting to show its age, but as Vedda points out, “Space agreements exist in a dynamic environment and attempts to alter them must be undertaken with eyes wide open.”
About the Center for Space Policy and Strategy
The Center for Space Policy and Strategy is dedicated to shaping the future by providing nonpartisan research and strategic analysis to decisionmakers. The Center is part of The Aerospace Corporation, a nonprofit organization that advises the government on complex space enterprise and systems engineering problems.
About The Aerospace Corporation
The Aerospace Corporation is a nonprofit corporation that operates a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) for the United States Air Force. With expertise that encompasses the entire space domain, as well as non-space areas, Aerospace responds with agility to challenges posed by complex, technology-based projects and delivers innovative solutions that assure mission success. The Aerospace Corporation is headquartered in El Segundo, Calif., with multiple locations across the United States.
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