Let’s stake our claim to outer space
Space is beyond the jurisdiction of any one nation. But it has always been occupied by the developed nations due to their advancements in aviation and aerospace. There are five treaties on outer space that have been forged in the United Nations: Outer Space Treaty 1967, Rescue Agreement 1968, Liability Convention 1972, Registration Convention 1975, and Moon Agreement 1979. Among them, only the Outer Space Treaty has been ratified on a large scale – by 113 UN member-states. The Moon Agreement has been signed by only four states – France, India, Guatemala, and Romania; around 18 major space-faring countries have become party to the treaty, but did not ratify.
Though the Outer Space Treaty specifies space as a global common resource, it does not mean that the space is public property. Rather, it gives directions on private ownership over the space, as only a handful of entities can send satellites and other resources into orbit. The objective of the Outer Space Treaty has been to ban and limit the use of nuclear weapons and prohibit any military activity in space. Article VI of the treaty only creates international responsibility of the state parties for all national space activities, whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental entities. So, countries like Bangladesh and any other state which are a party to this treaty may utilise the resources brought from outer space, but they cannot send or do any space activities without the permission from other state parties. The UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) provides only a forum for discussion and development. No "body" has been created to monitor or regulate the activities of space explorers in outer space and the orbit of Earth.
The commercialisation of space was initialised with the growing need of entertainment and telecommunication broadcasting. While the treaty highlights aspects regarding uses, exploration benefits and risks, it also covers resource-sharing with the developing countries. The Space Benefits Declaration, adopted by the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), ensures that space exploration is carried out for the benefit of all countries, with an emphasis on the needs of developing countries. In conformity with international laws, such as the UN Charter and the Outer Space Treaty, the declaration emphasises worldwide cooperation in peaceful space exploration, utilising space benefits through several policy sectors, including monitoring of the climate and weather, access to healthcare, water management, efficient transportation, peacekeeping, security, and humanitarian aid.
Being a soon-to-be developing country, Bangladesh complies with space law and joined the Outer Space Treaty in 1986. With the launch of Bangabandhu-1 Satellite in 2018, Bangladesh became the 57th country and the fourth in South Asia to own a satellite, marking a significant advancement in the country's space research efforts. The nation also has the Space Research and Remote Sensing Organisation (SPARRSO), which collaborates on environmental and meteorological research with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa), Nasa, and the European Space Agency (ESA). Using American and Japanese satellites, SPARRSO keeps an eye on Bangladesh's water resources and agro-climatic conditions.
Owning a satellite and utilising the remote sensing technologies under the Outer Space Treaty makes Bangladesh more relevant to the commercialisation scope of space. The business industry surrounding space exploration was once a public agenda, but the absence of effective regulatory mechanisms leaves narrow scope for countries like Bangladesh to access and utilise the benefits of space exploration. Developing countries like ours must come forth to ratify all the five treaties to protect their rights over the benefits presented by space exploration.
Nadia Islam Nody and Shadab Bin Ashraf are lecturers at the Department of Law of the Bangladesh Army International University of Science and Technology (BAIUST).