Indian Space Law

Space Activities Bill, 2017

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has initiated a process of formulating a National Space Act for India

What Is Space Law?

“Space Law” is just as it sounds—that which governs space-related activities, including space exploration, liability for damage, weapons use, rescue efforts, environmental preservation, information sharing, new technologies, and ethics, encompassing both international and domestic agreements, rules, and principles. Space law is also tightly intertwined within the purview—or universe—of other fields of law such as administrative law, intellectual property law, arms control law, insurance law, environmental law, criminal law and commercial law. [American Bar Association: Space Law 101]

Leading space powers like the US, Russia and Japan have domestic space laws based broadly on the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, while China has announced that its space policy will be ready soon. India, though, has the dubious distinction of being the only country with indigenous launch capability, yet without a national space law. India’s space activities are currently guided by a few international treaties, along with some provisions of the Indian Constitution, the Satellite Communications Policy of 2000 and the revised Remote Sensing Data Policy of 2011. Realising that the lack of an overarching national space policy will seriously handicap Isro’s future programs, New Delhi has now finally decided to craft a Space Act.


Government of India
Department of Space
16-December-2015 19:05 IST

National Space Law


Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has initiated a process of formulating a National Space Act for India for supporting the overall growth of space activities, with enhanced levels of private sector participation and offering more commercial opportunities. In this context, consequent to internal studies followed by a national level workshop with experts across the country, and subsequent consultations, a draft version has been formulated. Currently, the Draft Cabinet Note is in process for seeking the approval of the Competent Authority for Inter-Ministerial Consultation.

India’s acceptance of Outer Space Treaty (1967) per se does not necessitate providing space policies of India. However, the Outer Space Treaty creates certain obligations, such as peaceful uses of outer space, promoting international cooperation in outer space activities, non-weaponisation of outer space etc., on a Member State. India as a Member State to this treaty has been complying with such obligations/ requirements.

This information was provided by the Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Development of North-Eastern Region (DoNER), MoS PMO, Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Atomic Energy and Space, Dr Jitendra Singh in a reply to an unstarred question by Shri Kunwar Pushpendra Singh Chandel and Shri Baijayant Jay Panda in Lok Sabha today.

Draft Geospatial information regulation  Bill, 2016  -A Bill to regulate the acquisition, dissemination, publication and distribution of geospatial information of India which is likely to affect the security, sovereignty and integrity of India and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.


To support the Outer Space Treaty, four other treaties were put into place in the 1960s and 1970s to support peaceful space exploration. These treaties (referred to below by their nicknames) are:

  • The “Rescue Agreement” (1968), formed to give astronauts assistance during an unintended landing or when they are facing an emergency. States are told they “shall immediately take all possible steps to rescue them and render them all necessary assistance.”
  • The “Liability Convention” (1972) outlines considerations if a space object causes damage or loss to human life. Its first article says, “A launching State shall be absolutely liable to pay compensation for damage caused by its space object on the surface of the earth or to aircraft flight.”
  • The “Registration Convention” (1975), drawn up to help nations keep track of all objects launched into outer space. This United Nations registry is important for matters such as avoiding space debris. (For NASA, the United States Strategic Command gives real-time updates to the agency if space debris threatens a spacecraft or the International Space Station.)
  • The “Moon Agreement” (1979), which gives more detail on the Outer Space Treaty for property rights and usage of the moon and other celestial bodies in the solar system (except for objects that naturally enter the Earth from these bodies, namely, meteorites). This treaty, however, has only been signed by 16 nations, all of which are minor players in space exploration.

The Outer Space Treaty, as it is known, was the second of the so-called “nonarmament” treaties; its concepts and some of its provisions were modeled on its predecessor, the Antarctic Treaty. Like that Treaty, it sought to prevent “a new form of colonial competition” and the possible damage that self-seeking exploitation might cause.


  • The “Declaration of Legal Principles” (1963), from which the Outer Space Treaty was created in 1967, lays down guiding principles, including the idea that space exploration is for the benefit of all humans.
  • The “Broadcasting Principles” (1982) has to do with television broadcast signals. These principles include the idea of noninterference with other countries’ signals, the provision of information to help with knowledge exchange, and the promotion of educational and social development (particularly in developing nations).
  • The “Remote Sensing Principles” (1986) concerns the use of electromagnetic waves to collect data on Earth’s natural resources. Remote-sensing activities are supposed to be for all countries’ benefit and should be carried out in the spirit of international cooperation.
  • The “Nuclear Power Sources Principles” (1992) concerns how to protect humans and other species from radiation if a launch goes awry, or a spacecraft flying by Earth accidently crashes to the surface. It’s common for spacecraft exploring the outer solar system to use nuclear power sources for energy, since solar power is so weak out there.
  • The “Benefits Declaration” (1996) says that space exploration shall be carried out for the benefit of all states. This was created two years before the International Space Station — an effort of 15 nations — launched its first two modules into space.

The United Nations has also held three UNISPACE Conferences since 1968. (A fourth one will take place in 2018.) This is what each conference focused on or will focus on:

  • UNISPACE I (August 1968): Progress in space exploration, international cooperation and creating an “expert on space applications” within UNOOSA. The United Nations body then had several workshops in the 1970s on space applications such as remote sensing, telecommunications and cartography.
  • UNISPACE II/UNISPACE 82 (August 1982): Peaceful exploration of space (specifically, how to avoid an arms race). Following the conference, UNOOSA worked more closely with developing countries to develop their space technology capabilities.
  • UNISPACE III (July 1999): Protecting the space environment, giving developing countries more access to space and protecting Earth’s environment. This led to the Vienna Declaration on Space and Human Development, with 33 recommendations for space-faring countries to follow. A follow-up report to the declaration was issued in 2004, five years after the conference.
  • UNISPACE+50 (2018): Will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first UNISPACE conference and focus on what COPUOUS should do now that more nations and nongovernmental entities are exploring space.

Space Activities Bill, 2017

India’s space activities are very unique towards delivering the results through various successful accomplishments. Today, the space technology and applications are used as enabling tools for national development and governance. Hence, it was considered that introduction of a space specific legal regime should only enable further growth of space activities in India, rather than merely a regulatory or restrictive regime. It needs to facilitate private sector participation in space activities under authorization and supervision by the Government.
On these premises, a draft Space Activities Bill,2017 has been formulated with due preliminary consultations with a few relevant Ministries. It is intended to have a basic framework with very essential provisions for treaty obligations, with scope for formulating rules and regulations on specific topics/activities. As the nature of space technologies vis-à-vis scope of space activities change very fast, it would be prudent to revise the rules and formulate with updates to cope with the developments. The Draft Bill includes a provision for Rules Making powers by the Government.[Explanatory note on Space Activities Bill, 2017]


U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs

Image : PSLV-C35 / SCATSAT-1
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