LawFuel.com – The crashing to earth of NASA’s satellite, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite has caused some consternation among sky-watchers, but what of the legal implications of the crashing NASA satellite? What happens if there is damage caused to property, or injury?
A comment on the NASA satellite law issues was made by attorney and space policy examiner Michael Listner in a review of some of the legal implications.
In Listner’s article he indicates that space law treaties including the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (Liability Convention Act) is the foundational treaty of interantional space law deals specifically with the issue of responsibility for space objects causing damage.
“For each scenario there is a separate standard of liability. In the scenario under Article II, the launching State, or the State that launched the space object, is held strictly liable for any damage caused by its space object even in the face of circumstances that are outside its control. If more than one State is responsible for the launch of the space object in question that State then will be held joint and severally liable for any damage caused. The second scenario under Article III holds a more burdensome standard of liability in that it employs fault liability. Under this standard, a State will be considered liable only if it can be shown that it was due to the fault of the State or States responsible for the launch of the space object as the case may be.
“Under Article I of the Liability Convention, the United States, which is the principle of NASA, is considered the “launching State”. Because any damage caused by UARS would be upon the surface of the earth to persons or property, the scenario under Article II of the Liability Convention would control, and the United States would be strictly liable for any damage that may be caused by that debris.
“It is notable that Article VII of the Liability Convention stipulates that the provisions of the Liability Convention do not apply to nationals of the launching State. In the instance of UARS, the United States is the launching State, thus the Liability Convention would not apply to damage caused to persons or property within the territory of the United States. Compensation for any damage that might occur to persons or property from debris of UARS within the United States would likley have to be from the government of the United States through federal laws such as the Federal Torts Claims Act.”
He goes on to say about the NASA spacecraft that in the event that debris does impact the soil of foreign nationals and causes damage to persons or property, the precepts of the Liability Convention will be available to address the issue of compensation for those damages.