Orbital Legislation 101

Via BoingBoing, The Guardian highlights a new module available to law students at Sunderland University on “law and the legal system beyond Earth’s atmosphere”:

Topics already arising in the field include gaps in health and safety for potential space tourists, and damage to satellites from other objects orbiting the Earth. Looking further ahead, some lawyers have raised questions about land titles on the moon or other planets.

Chris Newman, one of the lecturers who will be teaching the module, said: “It is a growing area which has relevance across commercial, company, property, environmental, intellectual property and IT practice sectors. We think that our qualification will offer valuable knowledge in a fascinating area.”


The syllabus is likely to draw on earlier attempts to extend legislation into uncharted areas, such as the arguments between nations over huge sections of Antarctica. There are no plans as yet to test students on how they would make a case for Earth law against that of other civilisations, should any be discovered.

It’s easy to scoff and file this among the mass of pointless degree topics available to UK undergraduates, but with commercial space operations coming up close behind the nation-state space programs, it’s not going to be all “territory held in mutual trust for the good of all mankind” up there for long. Mix this module with a few more covring squatter’s rights, the successful defense of minerals claim-jumping and some basic tort law, and your new-frontier legal practice is ready for business…