1.1 Ownership Evolution

As civilization progressed, the concept of ownership evolved in stages. Initially, with the rise of the 'state,' land became a prime owned resource, then moved to exploration post which the focus shifted to the ownership of airspace above sovereign territories or private lands. Countries only own a fixed airspace above their territory, thus allowing for seamless global flight and satellite operations without infringing on sovereignty of any territories or necessitating repeated permissions for airspace utilization.

As the progression goes and history would prove, need and use of resources can only be depicted with an upward graph, the next avenue to be tapped is the space and all the spaces it has to offer. While, in the war for resources, it may not be 'the final frontier', it definitely is a resource that is untapped, with a potential to catalyze development and growth, apart from the possibility of aiding survival of humanity itself (if need be and technology allows).

1.2 Race to Space

The space race, evolving since the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957 (which during the Cold War, established USSR's supremacy in space), has had geopolitical significance, marked by NATO recognizing space as a domain for warfare in 2019 further emphasizing the strategic importance of space exploration and its impact on global power dynamics. Since then, nations have been engaging in various space missions, including sending humans as well as animals into space, conducting both manned and unmanned moon missions, and launching probes to study Venus, Mars, and Mercury. The moon, rich in resources like water, Helium-3, and rare earth elements, became the first and remains a crucial stop in exploration of space. Nations, recognizing the limited nature of such resources and thus essence of time, have prioritized lunar exploration and taken to the phrase the phrase "Do or do not, there is no try...". Water, ice, Helium-3, and Rare Earth elements hold key importance for generation of energy (fusion, renewable and more), applications, including cryogenics, quantum computing, electronics, defence tech. Moon could also serve as a refuelling station for deep space exploration. Thus, when India recently made history by successfully launching a probe to the Moon's south pole, it received accolades in global platforms for accomplishing a feat no other nation has achieved.

1.3 Strategic points in Space

Embarking on the next space race requires a deep understanding of key points in the vast expanse. In the three zones above Earth, each with unique benefits, the low earth point (160 km to 2000 km) is ideal for cost-effective satellites and high-speed internet, while the middle earth point (2000 km to around 35,000 km) hosts critical satellites like GPS, Glanoss, and Galileo. Beyond 35,786 km lies the geostationary orbit, perfect for spy satellites. Every celestial body has such strategic points, and each space enthusiast nation is trying to understand them better with each passing day.

1.4 International Space Stations

The next big step in the exploration of space was the establishment of the International Space Station. International Space Stations ("ISS") is a co-operative programme between European States, the United States, Russia, Canada, and Japan for the joint development, operation and utilisation of a Space Station established in low Earth orbit. The ISS operates under a series of agreements, which establish the legal framework for the collaboration and operation of the ISS. The rules are a little different on ISS; crimes committed by an astronaut from one country against another can lead to prosecution and extradition. Despite lacking an extradition treaty with US, Russia is bound by the Space Station Agreements and must comply if any such instance was to occur at ISS. The Space Station Agreements define roles, responsibilities, utilization, access, cooperation, legal framework, technology transfer, and crew rotation and training with respect to the ISS. The parties to such agreements also aim to protect proprietary rights by establishing marking procedures, ensuring confidentiality, and preventing infringement of each other's rights.

1.5 Commercial Space Exploration

In current times, commercial use of outer space extends beyond the domain of sovereign nations, with private players like SpaceX and Blue Origin becoming key drivers in space exploration, including missions to the moon and mars. Beyond satellites and resource mining, organizations are venturing into space tourism, with pioneers like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin leading the way. As outer space exploration expands, there is a growing need for governance to regulate the conduct of nations and address liability issues, particularly with the increasing involvement of private entities.

Now that we have established the need and benefits for exploration, let's explore the rules guiding our journey into the vastness of outer space and celestial bodies!


2.1 Global Legal Treaties

Amidst the US and USSR space race concerns, the UN introduced a new legal framework. Globally, five major treaties govern nations in the space sector:

  1. Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, 1966 ("Outer Space Treaty"): Ensures space exploration benefits all countries and is used only for peaceful purposes, emphasizing no national appropriation.
  2. Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space, 1967 ("Rescue Agreement"): Prompts prompt rescue of distressed astronauts and return of space objects.
  3. The Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, 1971 ("Liability Convention"): States are held internationally liable for any damage caused by space activities carried out by them or their authorised persons, to other states or their space objects.
  4. The Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space, 1974 ("Registration Convention"): Requires states to register objects launched into outer space with the United Nations helping identification and tracking space objects/space traffic.
  5. The Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, 1979: Outlines principles for the use of the moon and other celestial bodies, emphasizing that their resources should be used for the benefit of all countries.


Questions of ownership, permissibility of space mining, sustainability, and responsibility for space are explored within the legal framework and this segment we try to discuss some key aspects of the same.

3.1 Who owns the space ?

According to the Outer Space Treaty, outer space is collectively owned, and no individual or nation can claim ownership over whole or part(s) of it. In the absence of jurisdiction, the legal framework explores extraterritorial jurisdiction for incidents and actions taking place in outer space.

3.2 Is space mining permissible?

Space, being unclaimable, raises questions about retrieval, ownership and commercialisation of space objects including asteroids or moon craters. The Treaty provides that outer space including moon and other celestial bodies are not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation or any other means. Currently, amongst the most active nations, while the US interprets it as open for all to benefit, Russia advocates against individual states dictating benefits distribution. The prevailing interpretation depends on political backing and only time will tell which interpretation prevails.

3.3 Is Space mining sustainable?

Currently, there is no law requiring private entities or the states to clean their own mess, debris or objects lying in space. In this relation, the Artemis Accords, initiated by NASA with respect to the most explored celestial object-the moon, aims to keep the moon non-polluted and may evolve into customary international law1 if consistently followed.

Drawing a parallel, debates around deep-sea mining, an area which is beyond national jurisdiction of any country, prompted international frameworks like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea addressing key elements like benefit-sharing aspects, marine environmental protection and guiding its takers to a 'seeking license' under the convention, giving them flexibility beyond their local laws. However, despite the attempts to permit deep sea mining with a regulated environment, scientists, industry experts and environmentalists have been dabbling the concerns around the exploration leading to consensus on the matter, being far from present. Thus, while outer space exploration and regulations also need to address the aspects like benefit sharing and environment protection, it is also following global trend of cautious observation and a "wait and watch" approach.

3.4 Who is responsible for activities in the outer space?

Basis the current legal framework, sovereign states have the freedom to explore space, with private entities needing authorization from their respective states, who continue to be responsible for any actions undertaken in outer space by them or by a person authorised by them. Also, any such activities must benefit all countries, promoting international peace, security and cooperation.

The Outer Space Treaty lacks comprehensive provisions on determining liability for private actors and enforcing the rights of private citizens in space. To address these gaps, there is a growing consensus on the need for a robust legal framework. Many experts advocate for the establishment of a coordination and enforcement agency, to manage the complexities associated with the increasing involvement of private entities in space exploration and related activities.


The Outer Space Treaty prohibits military bases, fortifications, and weapons testing on celestial bodies, but its restrictions are less strict for outer space, only forbidding the orbiting of weapons of mass destruction. This means a country could establish a military space station, though not on the moon or a celestial body. The use of space for military reconnaissance, military communications, for navigation of terrestrial cruise missiles etc as such is not prohibited by the Outer Space Treaty. One must remember that most astronauts originally were defence personnel given the security concerns and rightly so.

Enforcement of the Outer Space Treaty today, relies heavily on bilateral controls and negotiations between sovereign states. The treaty allows authorized representatives from one member state to visit another member state's space station, ensuring compliance and preventing any violations of the treaty. However, since the parties to the Outer Space Treaty are sovereign states, in absence of a central authority, enforcement is always a challenge.


5.1 Strides in Space Activities: ISRO at the backbone!

India's space endeavors, led by the Indian Space Research Organisation ("ISRO") despite its modest and humble beginnings2, have propelled it among the top 6 government space agencies globally today.

With a current space economy of approximately 8.4 billion United Stated Dollars in the 440 billion United States Dollars global space economy, India anticipates reaching 44 billion United Space Dollars3 by 2033.

Noteworthy Indian missions in outer space include Chandrayaan-1, 2 & 3, with successful lunar explorations (discovery of water, first landing on south pole of moon); Gaganyaan, India's upcoming manned space mission for which India has already done a test flight and plans to do another with a robot before the final mission takes place end of 2024; and Mangalyaan, the Mars Orbiter Mission. India's achievements in outer space extend to Navigation Satellites, Earth Observation Satellites, Aditya L-1 mission4, and ambitious plans for its own space station by 2035, along with the upcoming Shukrayaan-1 mission to Venus.


India has been working on a comprehensive legal framework for space activities. Currently, Space framework including the laws and regulations in India broadly includes following:

  1. Space Activities Bill, 2017: India's space regulations are evolving with this bill which aims to streamline and authorize space activities, foster private participation, delineate liabilities and obligations. Offering non-transferable licenses for commercial space endeavours, the government shall also provide the licensees with professional and technical support. It also emphasizes on safety requirements, record-keeping of space objects and their trajectories, and the protection of intellectual property rights ("IPR") generated through space activities or on board on object in outer space, wherein the IPR is currently proposed to be vested in the government. The bill was open for stakeholder comments, reflecting a collaborative regulatory approach. However, there has been no further update on this, and the bill remains to be revised or become law.
  2. Indian Space Policy: Anchored in key principles of self-reliance, technological advancement, and international collaboration, India's space policy commits to the peaceful use of space for humanity's collective benefit and encourages growth in the space industry and private sector involvement in the 'space'! The policy champions international collaboration, inviting joint ventures in satellite launches, space science, and exploration, as able diplomatic tools. It also focuses on commercialization, to propel growth in the space industry with active private sector engagement. While driving national development through applications in telecommunications, agriculture, and disaster management, the policy acknowledges security concerns by treating certain aspects as 'classified'. It also underscores environmentally responsible practices, reinforcing India's commitment to space exploration and scientific research. These principles collectively shape India's stance as a spacefaring nation, balancing global cooperation and strategic goals.
  3. International Treaties: India upholds its commitment to outer space exploration by being a signatory to key international treaties, including the Outer Space Treaty, Rescue Agreement, Liability Convention, and Registration Convention. As highlighted above, these agreements set principles for responsible and collaborative space exploration.
  4. FDI in Space: With the goal of becoming a space superpower, India's government is committed to updating legal framework and create a policy befitting its core philosophy re 'space', including by continuously working towards adoption of the Indian Space Policy and releasing official statements with commitment to review FDI rules in the space sector. Currently, FDI is allowed upto 100% in a limited segment of satellite establishment and operations with prior approval of the government and subject to sectoral guidelines issued by department of space/ISRO. The government is set to open up the sector further for foreign investment making certain segments be available for funding under automatic route and committing to look for at least permitting 100% investment in various space sectors, if not under automatic then under government approval route. With this India is slated to position itself for robust foreign investment in its space endeavors.


The Indian space sector, traditionally government-dominated, is undergoing a significant shift towards privatization. A surge in Space Start-Ups, from 1 in 2014 to 189 in 20235, with investments reaching $124.7 million, reflects the sector's growing dynamism.

The Indian Space Policy 2023 aims to achieve the 44 billion United States Dollars mark in the global space economy by 2033, emphasizing private sector involvement in satellite and launch vehicle manufacturing, satellite services, ground systems and more.

Notable developments include private companies launching satellites, the establishment of sub-orbital launch facilities, and the formation of Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center ("IN-SPACe")—a regulatory body fostering collaboration, supporting private initiatives through initiatives like mentorship, skill development, seed funds, and Pricing Support Policy. The development of such technology find applications in agriculture, disaster management, environmental monitoring, communication solutions, amongst others. IN-SPACe has signed around 45 MoUs with private NewSpace companies to support the realization of space systems and applications, fostering industry participation in manufacturing launch vehicles and satellites. NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), ISRO's commercial arm, is also proving instrumental in driving these transformative changes.


  1. Cost Efficiency: Exemplified by the Mars Orbiter Mission, conducted at one-tenth the cost of similar Mars missions worldwide.
  2. Proven Success: India has independently launched over 150 satellites and assisted 34 countries with 431 satellite launches as of July 2023, showcasing a cost-effective approach.
  3. Visionary Start-up Culture: With over 189 space tech startups, India's space sector embraces a start-up surge. Notable investments include Peak XV Partners leading a $10 million funding for Digantara and Skyroot Aerospace securing $51 million in the sector's largest-ever funding round.
  4. Skilled Workforce: Fuelled by these startups, India is poised to cultivate a skilled and cost-effective workforce in the space industry.
  5. Rising Global Demand: Driven by technology advancements, the growing need for higher bandwidth capacity, improved radar, and thermal imaging positions India's space sector for robust growth, both domestically and globally.


9.1 Budgetary Constraints

India's space sector grapples with limited budgetary allocations, trailing significantly behind nations like the USA and China. Despite fostering cost-efficiency, this financial gap hampers the sector's growth. The absence of substantial funding impedes India's competitiveness on the global stage, but that is soon set to change with the Indian government's commitment on reforming policies and opening foreign investment as discussed above.

9.2 Legislative Void

The absence of a defined legal framework hampers private sector involvement, hindering potential contributors to the space industry. The lack of a structured legal environment deters active participation and investment (including foreign investments), in contrast to leading spacefaring nations like the US, Russia, and China. Establishing a comprehensive legal framework is imperative for India's space industry to thrive and align with international standards and thus the recent commitment statements issued ty the government as noted above, will go a long way in fostering an investment friendly environment for space sector.

9.3 Dispute Resolution Gap

The absence of a robust dispute settlement mechanism discourages private investments. A notable case involved Antrix Corp, ISRO's commercial arm, being ordered to pay $1.2 billion to Devas Multimedia, by the International Chamber of Commerce, only to be later dismissed and reversed by the US Appeal's court6, highlighting the need for a reliable and efficient dispute resolution system. Addressing this gap is crucial for fostering a conducive environment for private investments in India's space sector.


Embarking on the space mining frontier unfolds a captivating saga of human exploration and technological leaps. From evolving ownership concepts to strategic space points, the cosmic journey mirrors our relentless quest for knowledge and resources.

Today, space isn't just a sovereign domain. Private players like SpaceX and Blue Origin are integral, reshaping our cosmic trajectory. The governing framework, rooted in global treaties, delves into ethics, ownership, sustainability, and responsibility, a dynamic realm requiring continuous scrutiny.

India, led by ISRO, has etched its mark globally. Amidst challenges like budget constraints, legislative gaps, and dispute resolution hurdles, the nation's proactive measures signal a commitment to surmounting obstacles. We need to capitalize on the rising tide and be one with the force.

In essence, as we look to the stars, the legal frontiers of space mining exemplify our shared dreams. The cosmic path ahead, peppered with collaboration, innovation, and strong governance, invites humanity to explore the boundless potential beyond Earth. The cosmic odyssey persists, beckoning us to boldly venture into uncharted realms. May the force be with us!


1. Customary international law is an unwritten law deriving from practice accepted as law and among sources of law and is recognized to be one of the sources of law under Article 38(1)(b) of the Statute of International Court of Justice. Any international custom to be established as customary international law primarily requires proving of two constituent elements, i.e. state practice and its acceptance as law (opinio juris).

2. www.indiatimes.com/technology/science-and-future/from-bicycle-to-a-billion-dreams-the-inspiring-history-of-isro-powering-india-s-space-fantasy-371930.html.

3. pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1988864#:~:text=The%20government%20has%20announced%20the,exploring%20satellite%2Dbased%20communication%20solutions.

4. www.isro.gov.in/Aditya_L1.html.

5. https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1988864

6. www.timesnownews.com/business-economy/companies/antrix-devas-case-big-win-for-isros-commercial-arm-antrix-us-court-overturns-1-3-bn-damages-order-details-article-102396254.

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