The Rules of the Road in Space’: An optimal legal solution for managing satellites in Low Earth Orbit

Northumbria University

PhD 3 years Newcastle, UK

Uploaded 14 Dec 2018

Job Description

This project will construct an underpinning legal framework to facilitate the management of satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). It will encompass a detailed examination and critique of the extant legal framework regulating satellites in LEO. There will be analysis of competing technical, legal and policy considerations in respect of satellite operations in LEO. 

The expansion of space activity in the 21st Century has seen Earth orbit become an increasingly congested, contested and competitive domain. The legal framework governing space activity has not kept pace with this and remains rooted in the cold war tradition of state-based responsibility, liability and control. Space is now multi-sectored with a rapidly increasing number of commercial entities joining civilian and military state actors. This crowding of LEO poses a serious challenge to safe and sustainable space operations as commercial and military activity increases. 

There is a need to manage the growth of space objects in LEO, not only through tracking and basic positional data, but also through a revivified model of governance. This project will contribute directly to that by provided the legal underpinnings of a new regime of space traffic management. With the law currently holding states liable on a fault basis for damage caused in space, the need to establish accepted practices in on-orbit satellite operations is now crucial, as the likelihood of damage and litigation increases. 

Aligning with the Extreme Environment MDRT, the successful candidate will engage with all relevant stakeholders in commercial space, academia and the military to ensure that the work comports with the current and future trends of human space activity. The work will be disseminated to the ESA, UK Space Agency and associated military and commercial space operators to ensure it is both impactful and an original contribution to the field of space governance. 

Person Specification

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.