Challenges of Legal Liability in Outer Space Exploration

  • Soumyaditya Deb and Priyongshu Paul
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  • Soumyaditya Deb

    Student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune, India

  • Priyongshu Paul

    Student at PGDAV College, Delhi University, India

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The advent of interstellar travel in the twenty-first century has witnessed a dynamic shift in the landscape of space exploration, marked by the extensive collaboration between public and private entities. This transformation, exemplified by companies such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin, has seen private enterprises outpacing their public counterparts in driving innovation and advancement within the field. Public-private partnerships have become a cornerstone of space exploration, with NASA collaborating with seven private companies, and even the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) engaging nearly 500 private enterprises. This article critically examines the emerging challenges in legal liability, particularly in the context of common law nations like the United States and India. While international space law, including the United Nations treaties on outer space, provides a framework for governing activities in space, it faces limitations in its enforceability. Furthermore, the unique characteristics of space, such as the absence of recognised sovereign territory, raise questions about the applicability of tort law. The paper explores liability laws within the international legal system and dissects the complexities surrounding their implementation. It discusses the United States' use of maritime law as a model for the development of tort law in outer space, highlighting the need for the establishment of space-worthiness standards to govern individual liability and address issues like negligence. The focus of the paper then shifts to the applicability of torts to both public and private contractors involved in space exploration. Drawing from key legal cases, such as the Boyle vs. United Technologies case, it probes the expanding concept of the government contractor defence (GCD) and its potential implications. Additionally, the concept of vicarious liability is discussed, as it holds private corporations accountable for the actions of their employees, a principle that could play a crucial role in space-related tort cases. The article underscores the pressing need for comprehensive and internationally recognised tort laws to govern liability in space exploration. It highlights the evolving legal landscape in India, which is adapting its legal framework to accommodate the growing involvement of private enterprises in space endeavours. By examining the challenges and legal precedents in this emerging field, this article contributes to the ongoing discourse on ensuring equity, justice, and legal clarity in outer space activities.


Research Paper


International Journal of Law Management and Humanities, Volume 6, Issue 6, Page 82 - 89


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