Space governance is about creating a set of rules or guidelines for conducting human activities in outer space. This is to ensure that activities are conducted as safely as possible and in such a way as to allow the maximum number and variety of activities. Some of these rules have the force of law such as those laid out in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the key international agreement regarding the use of outer space, others are less formal agreements on the best way to conduct activities so as to maximize benefit and minimize harm.
We are now entering into an era of increased activity in outer space. Additionally, there are new activities being conducted by new players. This makes evolving and adapting the existing framework governing human activities in outer space particularly important. So that it is better able to deal with these new challenges. Part of this is finding a way to balance competing interests, many of which are the same as we face on Earth, such as finding a way to balance the desire to develop and grow our economies and societies with the needs of the environment. In outer space, this largely manifests itself as a desire to protect the scientific value of outer space for future study, particularly as concerns the search for life elsewhere. The ‘planetary protection’ guidelines are designed to avoid ‘harmful contamination’ of the planets and other solar system bodies so if (or when) we find life on Mars (or Titan etc) we can be sure that it is actually Martian life not life that we have transplanted there via one of our various space probes.
Regarding our research, we’ll be looking at whether the existing planetary protection guidelines are adequate for dealing with the new challenges. As well as how they might be further developed and strengthened, both internationally but also within the UK and European contexts. As well as what responsibility governments have for ensuring that the activities conducted in outer space by those companies and persons under their jurisdiction avoid ‘harmful contamination’ of the planets and other celestial bodies in the solar system, as required by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. As our activities beyond Earth expand and multiply the need for effective governance will only become more imperative.