Our space laws are deeply outdated — the UN aims to change that

On Nov. 15, 2021, Russia destroyed one of its own old satellites using a missile launched from the surface of the Earth, creating a massive debris cloud that threatens many space assets, including astronauts onboard the International Space Station. This happened only two weeks after the United Nations General Assembly First Committee formally recognized the vital role that space and space assets play in international efforts to better the human experience – and the risks military activities in space pose to those goals.

The U.N. First Committee deals with disarmament, global challenges and threats to peace that affect the international community. On Nov. 1, it approved a resolution that creates an open-ended working group. The goals of the group are to assess current and future threats to space operations, determine when behavior may be considered irresponsible, “make recommendations on possible norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviors,” and “contribute to the negotiation of legally binding instruments” – including a treaty to prevent “an arms race in space.”

We are two space policy experts with specialties in space law and the business of commercial space. We are also the president and vice president at the National Space Society, a nonprofit space advocacy group. It is refreshing to see the U.N. acknowledge the harsh reality that peace in space remains uncomfortably tenuous. This timely resolution has been approved as activities in space become ever more important and – as shown by the Russian test – tensions continue to rise.