March 3, 2021, 8:16 a.m.   SamarthLuthra  
Pens of Law students   International Relations    

Profile of the Author - Suryatanu Dey is a final year B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) student at School of Law, UPES, Dehradun. He is specialising in Energy Law.


The Outer Space Treaty or the ‘Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies’ is a treaty on which lies the basic foundation and legal framework of international space law.

It came into effect on the 10th of October, 1967 and as of February 2021, there are 111 parties to this treaty whereas another 23 have signed the treaty but have yet to ratify it. This international treaty binds all its parties to use outer space for peaceful purposes only, bans the stationing of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in outer space, prohibiting military activities on celestial bodies and details legally binding rules governing the peaceful exploration and use of space. The treaty assures the use of outer space for the benefit of mankind by all irrespective of the degree of scientific or economic development of the country.


The concept and provisions of the Outer Space Treaty were based on the Antarctic Treaty which sought to prevent "a new form of colonial competition" and the possible damage that self-seeking exploitation might cause. The era of the space race began with the launching of the world’s first artificial satellite in 1957 by the then Soviet (USSR) Union. It was believed that by the 21st century, space travel, human settlements on other planets and space stations would be fairly common [1]. But when these were attempted, many challenges arose. This led to a discussion among the nations to ensure the peaceful use of outer space and in 1959 the UN created the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). United Nation’s General Assembly Resolutions 1721 (XVI) and 1802 (XVII), both titled "International Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space", and Resolution 1962 (XVIII), or a "Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space" were passed unanimously. These articles form the foundation of the Outer Space Treaty [2].

Even before the launch of the Sputnik, there was an international proposal to verify the testing of space objects by the United States of America but this was not accepted by the Soviet Union. Between 1959 and 1962, there was proposed attempts to bar the use of outer space for military purposes which included provisions to ban the orbiting and stationing in outer space of weapons of mass destruction. After continuous discussion and changes in approach, both the United States and the Soviet Union declared that neither country would use outer space for military purposes. On October 17th, 1963 The United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution where it called upon all states to refrain from introducing weapons of mass destruction into outer space based on the declaration by the two superpowers of the U.S.A and USSR [3]

The United States supported this resolution even though there were no provisions for verification. There were basic differences in the draft treaties submitted but after discussions, the majority of the provisions were agreed upon. On the 19th of June,1966, the United Nations General Assembly approved by acclamation a resolution commending the Treaty. It was opened for signature at Washington, London, and Moscow on January 27, 1967, and the Treaty entered into force on October 10, 1967.


The main objectives of the treaty are: [4]

Ø That outer space, the moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.

Ø Exploration and use of outer space to be carried out only for the benefit of mankind irrespective of the degree of their scientific or economic development.

Ø That the outer space belongs to all of mankind and not the domain of any country.

Ø That there should be mutual understanding and strengthening of friendly relations between states and people.

Ø That the State should refrain from placing any object carrying nuclear weapons or any other form of weapons of mass destruction in the orbit or on any other celestial bodies.

Ø That there should be freedom of scientific investigation in outer space by all.

Ø That the astronauts should be recognised as envoys of mankind and the States should render them all kinds of assistance.

Ø That the States should bear all responsibility for activities undertaken by private parties which should be authorised by the State.

Ø That each State should be liable for damage caused by the launching of space objects or any damage occurring due to exploration.

Ø That each State should register all space objects launched and retain control and jurisdiction over such space objects including personnel thereof while such object is in outer space or on a celestial body.

Ø All exploration of outer space by a State shall be carried out with due regard to the corresponding interest of all other States.

Ø That the nature, conduct and location of all space activities carried out by the State must be reported to the Secretary-General of the United Nation to the extent feasible, in the spirit of international cooperation.

Ø That all facilities installed in outer space or on celestial bodies shall be open to other States in the spirit of international cooperation on a reciprocal basis.


All space-related activities, that encompass all international and domestic agreements, rules, and principles are regulated by Space Law . [5] It includes exploration of the outer space, launching of space objects, their use and any damage arising out of such use, rescue efforts in case of any mishap happening in space, environmental effects due to use of space objects, introduction and development of new technologies and ethical issues arising as a consequence of the use of space objects. Laws relating to space cannot function independently but must be combined with other domains of law to enhance their effectiveness.[6]

The Outer Space Treaty, signed and enacted in 1967 is the backbone of international space law. [7] The treaty has helped in ensuring peaceful exploration of outer space and the legal framework for the behaviour of nations in outer space. The treaty establishes the acts of the nations in what they can or cannot do in outer space and on celestial bodies. The treaty gives all nations the right to explore and investigate outer space including celestial bodies irrespective of their scientific or economic development status. At the same time, it emphasises that outer space belongs to mankind and can be utilised for its upliftment but no nation can lay claim on it.[8] The treaty forbids the placement of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction in outer space and other celestial bodies and this clause has never been violated although space is being used increasingly by the military by way of communication, surveillance and control of weapons on Earth. The treaty is one of the major non-armament treaties of the world. The treaty also makes sure that celestial bodies are not harmed by contamination or that any object brought back into Earth doesn't hurt her. The treaty is an agreement between the nations but also covers private enterprises as the treaty holds the nations responsible for the acts of these private enterprises. Although the treaty allows commercial activities in outer space or on celestial bodies but such activities are to take place under the supervision of the State which shall be responsible for the acts of the private enterprises. [9] [10]


Commercial activities in outer space are advancing day by day. At present, there is no regulatory framework that will allow a State to supervise all the modern commercial activities that various private enterprises are proposing to undertake. To ensure that the private enterprises are adhering to the articles of the Outer Space Treaty, a modern and advanced regulatory mechanism is needed. National Space Legislation is the model legal framework to ensure that private, commercial and non-governmental entities carry out space activities as per the provisions of the treaty. State parties are to give effect to their international obligations through such space legislations. Such legislation must give a detailed scope of application regarding every aspect of exploration of outer space including launching, authorisation, supervision, monitoring, registration, liability and recourse.

The Outer Space Treaty is binding on those nations who sign and ratify the treaty but the lack of an international agency to implement the treaty means it cannot be enforced practically. So a State might choose to ignore it but to date, it has never been violated. Despite the importance of the treaty, the provisions contained in it needs to be amended and improved upon keeping in view the advancement in space technology.

References -

[1] Louis de Gouyon Matignon, THE DEFINITION OF SPACE LAW https://www.spacelegalissues.com (2019), https://www.spacelegalissues.com/space-law-the-definition-of-space-law/ (last visited Mar 1, 2021).

[2] Ben Rusek, Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodiies https://www.armscontrol.org (2020), https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/outerspace (last visited Mar 1, 2021).

[3] Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Jill Stuart, The Outer Space Treaty Has Been Successful – But Is It Fit for the Modern Age? https://www.livescience.com (2017), https://www.livescience.com/57943-outer-space-treaty-success-modern-assessment.html (last visited Mar 1, 2021).

[4] RESOLUTION ADOPTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY, https://www.unoosa.org (2017), https://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties/outerspacetreaty.html (last visited Mar 1, 2021).

[5] Louis de Gouyon Matignon, THE OUTER SPACE TREATY OF 1967 AND THE MAIN PRINCIPLES OF SPACE LAWwww.spacelegalissues.com (2019), https://www.spacelegalissues.com/space-law-the-outer-space-treaty-of-1967-and-the-main-principles-of-space-law/ (last visited Mar 1, 2021).

[6]Matthew J Kleiman, Space Law & The New Era of Commercial Spaceflight https://www.americanbar.org (2011), https://www.americanbar.org/digital-asset-abstract.html/content/dam/aba/publications/scitech_lawyer/fall_2011/space_law_new_era_commercial_spaceflight.pdf (last visited Mar 1, 2021).

[7] Loren Grush, How an international treaty signed 50 years ago became the backbone for space law https://www.theverge.com (2017), https://www.theverge.com/2017/1/27/14398492/outer-space-treaty-50-anniversary-exploration-guidelines (last visited Mar 1, 2021).

[8] Jill Stuart, The Outer Space Treaty Has Been Successful – But Is It Fit for the Modern Age? https://www.livescience.com (2017), https://www.livescience.com/57943-outer-space-treaty-success-modern-assessment.html (last visited Mar 1, 2021).

[9] Irmgard Marboe, The Importance of National Space Legislation for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space https://www.unoosa.org (2013), https://www.unoosa.org/pdf/pres/lsc2013/symp2-02E.pdf (last visited Mar 1, 2021).

[10] TREATY ON PRINCIPLES GOVERNING THE ACTIVITIES OF STATES IN THE EXPLORATION AND USE OF OUTER SPACE, INCLUDING THE MOON AND OTHER CELESTIAL BODIES (OUTER SPACE TREATY), https://www.nti.org (2019), https://www.nti.org/learn/treaties-and-regimes/treaty-principles-governing-activities-states-exploration-and-use-outer-space-including-moon-and-other-celestial-bodies-outer-space-treaty/ (last visited Mar 1, 2021).

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