Space and satellite wrap up – Legal and regulatory developments in 2023

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There has been continued attention and buzz in the space and satellite industry in 2023, with India’s moon landing, successful space tourism missions and a record number of people in space at one time to name some of the many recent developments in the sector.

Alongside this ongoing activity and investment in the sector, governments and policy makers continue to consider the regulatory frameworks that apply to the space industry, and we have seen some key legal and regulatory developments across the space and satellite industry in 2023. We provide a wrap up of some of these developments below.

National space law, regulation and policy

Over the course of the year, we have seen a range of developments in relation to the national space laws, regulations and policies in place in various jurisdictions. This includes amendments to and developments of existing space law regimes, but also a range of new space law proposals and consultations. Notably, many of these developments relate to sustainability of space activities which has been a key focus area throughout the year and is likely to continue to be a priority in the space sector moving forward. We highlight some of these developments as follows.

  • UK – has consulted on changes to the orbital liabilities and insurance framework for space operations from the UK with a view to reducing the regulatory barriers for operating in the UK. The main proposals published by the UK Space Agency (UKSA) are:
    • a variable liability limit for orbital operations based on the activity, orbit, and sustainability aspects of each mission;
    • alternative insurance models for third party liability cover, such as a mutual or a collective policy; and
    • a refund of licence fees for companies that commit to sustainable practices.
    The consultation is open until 5 January 2024 and those interested can review the consultation and provide responses here.
  • US – the Senate passed a bill, called the Orbits Act, to reduce space debris and promote safe space activities, the bill is similar to legislation that has been previously been unsuccessful in the House. If passed, the bill would, amongst other things, direct the Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce to publish a list of debris that poses the greatest risk to spacecraft and establish a NASA program to demonstrate debris removal. The House is also considering the Commercial Space Act which would designate the Commerce Department's Office of Space Commerce as the "single authority" for authorizing and supervising novel space missions (apart from spectrum and launch which would remain with the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Aviation Administration respectively).

  • Australia – the domestic space legislation in Australia has been amended to reduce barriers to participation in space activities. The changes primarily relate to the requirements for particular assessments that need to be carried out in the application process, namely removing the requirement for experts to be unrelated to the applicant to allow for in-house capability to be used.

  • Germany – has approved a new space strategy which recognises the increasing importance of space systems for various sectors and challenges. The Space Strategy identifies four priorities: New Space, climate protection, data availability and utilisation, and responsible use of space applications.

  • UAE – has announced it will release an updated version of its space law in the first quarter of 2024. The new law is expected to cover authorisations and inspections of licensees, as well as regulations for cross-cutting sectors that are supporting the space industry to facilitate collaboration with counterparts and expedite relevant licensing processes.

  • Italy – has announced that it intends to release a draft comprehensive national space law as part of the Budget Law for 2024, we hope to see further developments on in early 2024.

  • EU – has consulted on the potential creation of an EU space law, the consultation closed on 28 November 2023 and updates following this consultation are expected in the lead up to the first trimester of 2024. Additionally, the EU Council has approved the first EU Space Strategy for Security and Defence and released statements of its intention to undertake legislative initiatives in relation to a range of space activities (e.g. space traffic management, sustainable uses of space). Notably, the European Space Agency (ESA) published a world-first Zero Debris Charter which is an internal standard to significantly limit the production of debris in Earth and Lunar orbits by 2030 for all of ESA’s future missions, programmes and activities.

Spectrum

As activities in space increase, so too does the pressure on spectrum. To keep pace with this demand, many regulators are actively considering the regulatory frameworks in place in relation to spectrum and considering options for improving the management of this crucial resource. We highlight some of the decisions and proposals that have been put forward by regulators during the year and other key updates in spectrum regulation.

  • ITU – the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23) is underway at the time of writing and is being held in Dubai over 20 November to 15 December 2023. This conference is held every three to four years to review and revise the international framework for spectrum management. The agenda includes reviewing international spectrum needs and considering the future of spectrum regulation for different services and applications, including in relation to International Mobile Telecommunications, aeronautical mobile services, space research and Earth exploration-satellite services, the global maritime distress and safety system, maritime Earth stations and ultra-high frequency broadcasting.

  • EU - the European Commission has proposed a common EU-wide position for negotiations at the WRC-23. The aim of a common position is to balance the demands of 5G, TV broadcasting and events, and the Galileo global radio navigation system and maritime radio communications.

  • UK - Ofcom, the regulator responsible for authorising and managing the use of spectrum in the UK, has consulted on and published decisions on a number of changes to the UK’s spectrum regulatory framework, including the following over the course of the year.
    • A hybrid sharing proposal for facilitating coexistence between licensed mobile, Wi-Fi and existing users of the upper 6 GHz band to support the growing demand for this spectrum.
    • A proposal to expand the 28 GHz band so that earth station gateways will have access to spectrum in the 27.8285 – 28.0525 GHz and 28.8365 – 29.0605 GHz bands.
    • Changes to Earth Station Licences to allow non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) satellites to deliver maritime services. These updates will automatically be included in all Earth Station Network licences that are granted moving forward and the updated terms will be issued to existing licence holders in the form of a variation to their current licences.
    • A proposal to make spectrum available in the 26 GHz and 40 GHz bands (known as “mmWave spectrum”), Ofcom is currently consulting on this proposal and feedback can be submitted here until 9 January 2024.
    • A proposal to increase the use of shared spectrum, including proposals to relax certain coordination rules, increase the permissible power levels of particular products and reduce record keeping requirements. Ofcom is currently consulting on these proposals and feedback can be submitted here until 2 February 2024.

  • France – the French Electronic Communications, Postal and Print media distribution Regulatory Authority (ARCEP) has consulted changes relating to spectrum regulation, including consulting on the future use of mobile spectrum consultation with expiring usage rights in the bands at 800 MHz, 1 800 MHz and 2 600 MHz as from 2026. The consultation, which closed on 23 September, aims to improve mobile coverage in rural areas, strengthen competition, and provide planning and investment certainty for operators.

  • Australia - the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has published a draft Five-year spectrum outlook 2023–28, which provides a broad overview of trends that affect spectrum management and factors used to inform the ACMA’s planning and spectrum allocation priorities. The draft outlook also includes a detailed annual work program, with activities and milestones for the 2023–24 financial year. The draft outlook covers various topics, such as spectrum sharing, flexible licensing, spectrum pricing, and spectrum for 5G, satellite, and public safety.

    The ACMA is also undertaking a broad review of its spectrum licence technical framework. The review aims to ensure that the arrangements in place are efficient and accommodate new technology (e.g. 5G and active antenna systems). The ACMA is undertaking the review on a band-by-band basis, with the review of some bands completed and others to be progressed early 2024.

  • Canada – the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) has published the Spectrum Outlook 2022 to 2026 sets out an outlook and strategy future demand, supply, and management of spectrum in Canada.

  • Saudi Arabia – the Communications, Space and Technology Commission (CST) carried out a consultation on its Space Radiocommunication Spectrum Outlook which describes the current and future actions to allocate and license the radio spectrum for space applications and services. The consultation closed on 10 September 2023 and aimed to identify the actual and future spectrum needs of the industry and ensure the availability of the required spectrum resources.

International engagement

There has been a range of international engagement over the course of the year, both in terms of bilateral agreements, collaborations and broader multilateral cooperation.

  • Artemis Accords – a number of countries have signed on to the Artemis Accords, a US-led set of principles to guide space exploration and cooperation, over the course of 2023. This includes Angola, Bulgaria, Netherlands, Iceland, Germany, Argentina, India, Ecuador, Spain and the Czech Republic.

  • Australia-US Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA) – Australia and the US have signed an agreement formalising the TSA between both countries. The TSA will allow US companies to undertake space launch activities in Australia while maintaining protections around the US technology. The US has previously agreed similar agreements with the UK, Brazil and New Zealand.

  • Atlantic Constellation project – the UK has announced that it plans to join Spain and Portugal to build a shared small-sat constellation to improve climate change research and disaster monitoring. The first phase of the project will include three spacecraft built by Portugal and one built by UK-based Open Cosmos, with later phases to bring the constellation to 16 satellites in total.

  • International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) project – the China-led ILRS project gained new members over the course of 2023. The project aims to construct a permanent lunar base in the 2030s with precursor missions to commence in the 2020s. The ILRS is regarded as a China-led parallel initiative to NASA’s Artemis Program and has been joined by Belarus, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Russia, Venezuela, South Africa and some organisations / institutes.

  • Slovenia bid for full ESA membership – Slovenia, currently an Associate Member of ESA, has submitted a request for full membership of ESA. This request follows Slovenia’s commitment to increase its involvement in space exploration and commercial space activities.

  • Bilateral space cooperation agreements – a range of bilateral agreements relating to enhanced space cooperation have been announced, including as follows:
    • Ghana and Tunisia signed an agreement to collaborate in the space sector, focussing on astronomy and Earth observation;
    • the UK and Japan signed an agreement to facilitate future cooperation of their military space arms, including in relation to operational knowledge sharing, collaborative exercises and training, and personnel exchanges;
    • the US and South Korea signed an agreement affirming the countries intentions to work together in relation to space communications, space-based navigation and research on the moon;
    • India and France signed an agreement to increase space cooperation between the countries and expand this collaboration into new space ventures and applications;
    • Iran and Russia signed an agreement to jointly design and construct remote sensing and telecommunication satellites;
    • the US and Japan signed an agreement to cooperate in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes; and
    • Algeria and Italy signed an agreement to establish a cooperation framework for space exploration, Earth observation, space technologies and training, to implement projects of mutual interest.

Contacts: Marjolein Geus, Jean-Claude VecchiattoWilly Mikalef, Thomas Jones and Ronald Hendrikx

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