From Little Things, Big Things Grow: How Should We Regulate the Commercial Utilization of Small Satellite Technology?
Since the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, space-related technology has developed to the point that humankind is now engaged in a broad range of space activities. The utilization of this technology forms an integral element of global society, such that the world is dependent upon constant and unimpeded space “access.” Yet, the existing international legal and governance framework, largely developed in a very different era of space activities (1960–1980s), is now straining to provide the necessary certainty, standards, and protections and is not sufficiently detailed or nuanced to comprehensively regulate recently evolving space technologies. This will increasingly impact upon each country’s space “security” and may impede opportunities for industrial progress and commercial initiative. The disconnect between law and technological development will become even more pronounced in the future with the development of small satellite technology, which offers both strategic and commercial opportunities, but also challenges, to existing space participants while facilitating the market entry of new space “actors.” This paper discusses a number of the more significant regulatory requirements that apply to small satellite technology now and into the future under the international lex lata of space law. Since the Space Treaties were not designed to apply to such technology, this represents an unsatisfactory regulatory regime. This paper will therefore argue that the imperative will be to develop and adapt legal and regulatory frameworks to appropriately address the demands and inevitability of new technological innovation, not the other way around.