Who Controls The Private Sector In Space


Space Cowboys: Who controls the private sector in space?


Space is the next domain, still mostly untapped in its potential.  It has no known boundaries and its full benefits has not even been close to discovered.  The use of space assets are so intertwined with our everyday life, that most do not realize the impact a catastrophe in space would cause.  Space, is it the final frontier?  Can it be owned?  Who’s job is it to control and police space?  Do Nation-State laws apply to the private companies operating in space?  Can these private companies circumvent the laws?  Can nations take advantage of the unpoliced private technology for their own advancement?  This paper aims to highlight the space players and bring to light the gaps in current agreements and policies of space.  Who is the ultimate controller of space and what parameters are being set to ensure prosperity of the domain, not the next World War?

Introduction to the Space Economy

Space is often compared to the “high seas” or ocean, because although nations control the coastal regions of waters, the ocean for the most part remains open to all.  Argentine in a United Nations counsel in the 1970s, put it as both the ocean and space are the “common heritage of mankind.”  This ocean analogy on many layers works, because it can be applied to ocean floor mining- or asteroid mining, the waters are open and vast- where space is open with unknown limits, waters can be congested and contested- as space can be, and many more examples. 

This analogy was brought up to refocus nations on the implications for not preserving access to resources and potential second and third order effects for substitution of inter-governmental management for private enterprise.  Although not all nations agreed that an international organization would hold enough influence in space, they all agreed that space should be open for all to explore (Peterson, 1997). 

Found in the Space Foundation Quarter 2: 2019 Space Report, the space “economy” grew $31.24 billion from 2017 to 2018; reaching $414.75 billion.  This report looked at the global spending of both the private sector and governments (spacepolicyonline.com, 2019). Below outlines the breakdown of that 2018 total (Graphic 1: 2018 Space Spending).

Graphic 1: 2018 Space Spending.  Adapted from “SpacePolicyOnline.com,” by Spacepolicyonline.com, Retrieved October 10, 2019, from https://spacepolicyonline.com/topics/commercial-space-activities/

Expected to grow somewhere between $1-3 trillion by the mid-2040s, space has seen a growth rate of roughly 2-8% each year.  The satellite industry seems to be the largest and fastest growing portion of the increases.  However, many experts believe that that growth will only be achieved if there are fundamental changes to the space industry; which would include expanding outside the two forms of current industries, government and communications (Foust, 2018).

The imagination and physical limitations are the only thing stopping the rapid growth of space.  Once the technology catches up to the designs, people will be traveling in space as a vacation, mining materials from asteroids, and the hottest products will be advertised in earth’s low-orbit.  But what, if any, party is responsible for ensuring that broken asteroids are not impacting satellites, or the tourist spacecraft will not collide with another?  In order to understand the complex gaps in space, it is essential to know the players.

U.S. Space Organizations 

Arguably the most recognizable name in across the globe, the United States formed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); which is an independent government agency, responsible for the civilian space program.  Established in 1958, NASA also focuses on aerospace and aeronautics research.  NASA, along with the nonprofit National Space Society work within the legal policies and laws that have been developed over the decades, while making great advancements in space.  NASA is not the only national organization working towards space expansion, they have just been the most successful to this point (NASA, 2019).

Non-U.S. National Space Organizations

Although not all are involved in the International Space Station (ISS), there are numerous nations that have governmental bodies set in place to oversee their space operations and exploration (Howell, 2018).  These Nations range from large world power players, to small third world nations. Below is a snapshot list of some of the more active government agencies, looking to explore and capitalize on advancement in space (Chart 1: Nation-State Space Programs).





Algerian Space Agency



Australian Government Space Portal



Bolivian Space Agency



Canadian Space Agency



European Space Agency



Centre Nationale d’ Etudes Spatiales (CNES)


Centre d’études et de Recherches de Toulouse (CERT)



German Aerospace Center



Indian Space Research Organization


Antrix Corporation



Iranian Space Agency



Italian Space Agency





Missile Technology Control Regime



Mexican Space Agency


N Korea

National Aerospace Development Administration



Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission







S Korea

Korea Aerospace Research Institute



Swedish National Space Board


Swedish Space Corporation



Scientific and Technological Research Council



National Space Organization



State Space Agency of Ukraine


United Arab Emirates

Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre


United Arab Emirates Space Agency


United Kingdom

British National Space Center


UK Space Agency


Chart 1: Nation-State Space Programs. Adapted from multiple-sources by Cline, October 11, 2019

Many nations have internal national policies, which relate to defining and delimitating space; these nations include, but are not limited to Pakistan; Saudi Arabia; Belgium; Mexico; Czechia; Greece; Thailand; Turkey; Australia; Slovakia; Poland; China; Jordan; Algeria; Colombia; Kazakhstan; Samoa; France; Denmark; Iran; Netherlands; Tunisia; Czech Republic; United Kingdom; Serbia; Belarus; Mongolia; Norway; Ukraine; Republic of Korea; Venezuela; Germany; Morocco; and Brazil (UNOOSA, 2019).  Nations having policy is a huge step forward.  As they draw their terms and definitions, is gives more for the international community to build on; however most of these policies do fail to look past their own boarder, into space operations of other players.

Later in the paper, the incident where China broken an unspoken norm since 1958, is looked at (Gruss, 2016).  Nations can have some, even if limited, repercussions when they act in space and it affects others.  They maybe be as simple as sanctions from other nations, but what happens when a private or public company disrupts the space truce? Who is responsible, when there are limited laws in place for space that look at how commercial operations can effect governmental ones?

Public and Private Organization in Space

Ranging from public space-liners, to space settlement, to space advertisement, to space mining, to space manufacturing, to space exploration, there are literally hundreds of private companies that have a vested interest in space. Only a small fraction of these companies were State funded, some are even manned space programs. Despite the U.S. companies having a heavy hand in space, there are many companies operating in space that are non-U.S. and worth noting (Chart 2 below: Private Companies in Space).







The Spaceship Company

Space Manifacturing




Magellan Aerospace Corporation

Aerospace Systems and Components Manufacturer



Neptec Design Group Neptec

Machine Vision Solutions for Space




Copenhagen Suborbitals

Manned space program

Amateur Crowd-funded


Terma A/S

Aerospace and defense company




Airbus Defense & Space

Aaerospace Products and Services



Liebherr Aerospace

Aerospace Equipment Manufacturing

Publicly Limited




Global Orbital Debris Removal



Nippon Electric Company

Information Technology and Electronics




Airbus Defence and Space

Space Technology



Innovative Solutions In Space

Nano-satellite Domain





Reusable Spacecraft for Suborbital Flights




Orbital Billboards



United Kingdom

Reaction Engines

Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE™).




Spacecraft Communications Company




space imagery



Oxford Space Systems

Lightweight Space antennas and structures



United States

 SpaceX: Boeing

Space Transportation Services



Planetary Resources

Asteroid Mining



United States

AD Astra Rocket Company

Advanced Plasma Rocket Propulsion



Made In Space

Microgravity 3D Printers



Virgin Galactic




Sierra Nevada Corporation

Commercial Orbital Transportation Services



Orbital Sciences; Northrop Grumman

Sm and Med Class Space and Rocket Systems



Blue Origin

Sub-Orbital Spaceflight Services



Shackleton Energy Company

Moon Mining



Deep Space Industries

RocketShip Tours



Chart 2: Private Companies in Space. Adapted from multiple-sources by Cline, October 10, 2019

According to Bill Gerstenmaier, who is the ASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, NASA estimates that the U.S. government funds upwards of 90 percent of the commercial crew system research and development.  This draws attention to the fact that even if these companies are privately owned, they have some layers of governmental control, because of the money being funneled into them from the government (spacepolicyonline.com, 2019).  This potentially could give an upper hand to a government looking to regulate private companies in space, but only at a national level.  So if these companies operate in a way at negatively effects other nations, will the un-effected governing nation step in?  There have been enough cyber incidents to know that is this an almost impossible feet to enforce.

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National Policy

When it comes to space expansion and exploration, the U.S. has undoubtedly held the lead since 1969, when the first man landed on the moon (NASA Administrator, 2019).  The aspirations have not let up since then. But, just like international waters, no one owns space; therefor there is a large gap in terms and policies which governs the vast environment.  As far as internal policy, the U.S. has many; ranging from National Space Policy; U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Space Policy; National Space Transportation Policy; Arms Export Control Act; National Aeronautics and Space Act; and Directorate of Defense Trade Controls.  All these governing documents aim to control how space is developed, explored and expanded in, within the control of the United States.

National Space Policy implemented August 31, 2006, is intended to influence international law and controls the claiming of sovereignty to any portion of space; including celestial bodies.  This policy was slightly tweaked in Space Policy Directive 1 (SPD-1), signed December 11, 2017 (Obama, National Space Policy, 2010).  U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Space Policy, signed April 25, 2003, this policy directs regulatory guidance for operations and exports of commercial remote space systems by the U.S. government (Bush, 2003).  Signed November 21, 2013, the National Space Transportation Policy provided the boundaries for federal entities on the use of space transportation systems, for both government and commercial purposes (Obama, National Space Transportation Policy, 2013). 

The Arms Export Control Act came into effect on June 30, 1976 and gives the President the control over import and export of defense articles and services (United States, 2019). Directorate of Defense Trade Controls is a bureau responsible for all enforcement of International Traffic in Arms Regulations (U.S. Department of State, 2019).  The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, which was the first of its type, was signed to establish research into space and establish NASA (Eisenhower, 2019).

President Trump unveiled on March 23, 2018, the U.S. first National Space Strategy.  Since that time, Space Policy Directive-2 and 3 were all written into legislation, but did not clear the 115th congress.  In summery they aimed to make the Department of Commerce the center for commercial space regulations, as well as move National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) commercial remote site into a new Space Policy Advancing Commercial Enterprise (SPACE) Administration.  Policy Directive- 3, looked to draw and establish the roles for the responsible parties in space traffic management and situational awareness.  Newly released Policy Directive- 4 proposed a U.S. Space Force, which would align under the Air Force command (spacepolicyonline.com, 2019).

From the beginning the U.S. has led the way in space, but they cannot be the only actors governing space.  The U.S. is not the world’s police force, however it may appear that way.  The next section gives an overview of current international space polices and what is or is not controlled or regulated.  It will also highlight the gaps in the current policy.

International Policy

As much as internal policies effect how the U.S. uses space, so do the limited amount of international polices.  The Outer Space Treaty, Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Act, and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, among others,  are the more prominent polices that effect space.  These policies and laws look to restrict the militarization of space, keeping it free for use by all.  However these policies fail to address what or whom is the authority if a civilian company breaks one.  Currently it is left to more nations self-policing companies that are tied to their states and there is limited backlash against nations for those actions.  There is also still grey areas when it comes to being able to police another nation for its direct actions.   A perfect example of a Nation acting on its own and potentially harming others, was Chinas use in 2007 of their Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapon (Gruss, 2016). 

China using a ground-based, medium-range ballistic missile intentionally destroyed its own obsolete weather satellite, known as Fengyun-1C.  This action immediately created pieces of space junk, in the thousands.  Outside the global backlash and some diplomatic costs, there was no one force that could govern the ASAT test.  Since this act, luckily, China has moved towards non-debris causing ASAT weapons, successfully testing them in 2010, 2013, and 2014 (Gruss, 2016).

Since 1999 there have been many nations stepping up to create laws and treaties, however this have never been done at a global level, with all players involved (UNOOSA, 2019). The 1976 Outer Space Treaty, the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963, the Astronauts Rescue Agreement of 1968, the Liability Convention of 1972, the Registration Convention of 1976, the Moon Agreement of 1984, the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Act, and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations address a number of concerns in space.  Mostly the handling of weapons and the weaponization of space; as well as inferring the belief of space being the province of all humankind.  Granting the freedom of use and exploration by all, without discrimination, as well as the non-appropriation of space.  These acts, however dated, also looks at determining liability of nations and the registration of objects that are being launched into space (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2014). 

All of the above policies address the issues which nations should consider when sanctioning regulatory agendas for national space activities.  This could include operational launch and re-entry of space objects in orbit, the manufacturing of spacecraft’s, actives and research into space exploitation and space science and technology applications (UNOOSA, 2019).  However great the above policies are, they all neglect to control or regulate civilian use of outer space.

Founded in 1960, the independent International Institute of Space Law (IISL) is a non-governmental organization.  Comprised of elected individuals from almost fifty nations, who are dedicated to the development of laws in space.  Falling under Dutch law in 2007, they aim to further promote the improvement of space law and expand the peaceful exploration rule of law, in the use space.  This organization is arguably the closest thing to working in the common direction of space laws.  Although this has not brought into fruition an international governmental organization for space control, it was least bridges some gaps and provides means to an end, if all parties get involved (IISL, 2019). 

Governmental Partnerships

Perhaps the greatest inter-governmental joint space exploration program ever, is the International Space Station (ISS).  Russia, Canada, Japan, the United States, and Europe (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom), have all benefited from the cooperation on the ISS; this could be from technology not available in their own nation or funding of programs, all involved have advanced from the sharing (NASA, 2019).  However, this partnership is only built on three levels of agreements: The International Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement, four different Memoranda of Understandings, and some bilateral Implementing Arrangements.

Due to the fact that participation in ISS is limited, these agreements mainly deal with ownership on the station, and the lines of jurisdiction.  Recognizing the Liability Convention of 1972, the legal framework establishes a ‘cross-waiver of liability’ for claim of damage against another state (ESA, 2013).  Again, the laws here are limited to the station and once the partnerships no longer carry a good return on investment, i.e. Russia can fund their own, without giving over or sharing information, the alliance will crumble.  

This is coupled with the fact that Russia and China want to sit down at a United Nations conference, to talk disarmament; having even drafted a treaty to ban space weapons.  The U.S. will not play ball, and refuses any negations to a treaty (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2014).  When you look at what the U.S. spend on space compared to other nations, someday the cost of sharing will out-weigh its benefits. As highlighted in the first section of this paper, the U.S. had a 2018 space budget of $48.31 billion.  The rest of the world’s nations budgets combined were $37.58 billion (Foust, 2018).


Most of what is considered UN policy is dated.  Back to a time where only the finically strong governments had the ability to operate in space; meaning the all failed to truly address where civilian use and operations in space laid in the scheme of things.  Although the nations are not trying to keep civilian enterprises from space use, there is no laws or authorities over these entities.  Until this happens, nations can capitalize on using civilian infrastructure which is not regulated, to break the lose laws and policies that exist to regulate governments.  There are too many loop holes currently for space to not end up in potentially the next world war. 

Works Cited

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