Thomas Cheney

3rd year PhD candidate in space law - Sunderland University, and Co-lead of the Space Generation Advisory Council’s Space Law and Policy Project Group.

What does your role involve?

As co-lead of SGAC’s space law and policy project group, I am involved in management of the group. This involves things such as welcoming new members to the project group (all members of SGAC are entitled to join), running one of our monthly meetings, drafting the monthly newsletter, updating our social media pages, reporting to the SGAC management team, running one of the groups ongoing projects or simply promoting both the project group and SGAC.

My PhD research is focused on the legal basis for asteroid mining. I am also interested in the regulation of spaceplanes, hypersonic and suborbital vehicles.


Favourite things:

  • Films - Master and Commander, the Martian, West Side Story.

  • Quote – "Rivers know this, there is no hurry, we will get there some day" – Winnie the Pooh/AA Milne.

  • Food – beef wellington, chocolate mousee, bbq pork ribs in whiskey honey glaze.

  • TV Show – currently airing, Better Call Saul, the Last Kingdom and Game of Thrones.

  • Hobby – building model aeroplanes and reading.


What do you enjoy most about your role?

The thing that tops the list has to be the opportunity to attend and participate in the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), particularly the Legal Subcommittee. I been part of the SGAC delegation for the last several years and it is an interesting and rewarding experience. This year was particularly special as I was able to present a technical presentation on behalf of the project group on our work and I gave a statement on behalf of the SGAC to the Subcommittee as part of the general exchange of views, as the Executive Director had to be in the US for the Fusion Forum at that time.


When did you become interested in space/the space industry?

I’ve been interested in space for a long as I can remember (very young Star Trek fan), but it didn’t become a serious interest until I read Mining the Sky by John Lewis in 2004 and I didn’t discover space law until my final year of undergraduate study when I stumbled across An Introduction to Space Law  by Professors Diederiks-Verschoor and Kopal in the law library at Newcastle University.


How did you get your job? Was it easy?

It did take two attempts to become a co-lead of the SGAC Space Law and Policy Project Group. There was a fairly standard application process in which I explained why I wanted the role, why I was qualified for it and what I would do for the organization. The first time they offered the position to someone else, but within the year another opportunity arose and I was successful the second time. But perseverance is key and the second time around I got the position fairly easily.


What decisions or opportunities you took do you think significantly influenced the fact you got that job?

I think the biggest thing was entering the European Centre for Space Law’s inaugural essay competition. I came third place which was an early confidence boost and this enabled me to attend their annual Practitioner’s Forum at the European Space Agency Headquarters in Paris, which not only helped my confidence levels, but also kickstarted my networking. The same thing can be said for joining SGAC in the first place and attending my first COPUOS session.


What advice would you give to people looking for a job in your industry?

For space law the biggest thing is it’s a niche field, you need to make opportunities happen for yourself. Apply for things, submit paper to conferences, attend events. Join organizations like SGAC or the European Centre for Space Law (and submit to their Young Lawyer’s Symposium and essay competition.) Finally, network, network, network. It’s not hard to become a known quantity, the space law community isn’t that big, but you need to make yourself visible.


Heidi Thiemann

Heidi is a PhD student studying variable stars using SuperWASP at the Open University.

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