CSPS Policy Paper Examines Outer Space Treaty

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (June 30, 2017) – The Aerospace Corporation’s (Aerospace) Center for Space Policy and Strategy released an analysis of the Outer Space Treaty, which marks its 50th anniversary this year. The policy paper by Dr. James Vedda examines provisions that may affect space commerce and highlights both possibilities for updating the treaty as well as the risks.

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 national nonprofit corporation that operates a federally funded research and development center and has more than 4,200 employees. With major locations in El Segundo, California; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and the Washington, D.C. region, Aerospace addresses complex problems across the space enterprise and other areas of national and international significance through agility, innovation, and objective technical leadership. For more information, visit www.aerospace.org. Follow us on Twitter: @AerospaceCorp.


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