Red Light or Green Light?: Legal Considerations for Regulating Traffic in Orbit

Anne Sophie Martin, Steven R. Freeland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


The number of functional and non-functional satellites, and other pieces of orbital debris, is constantly increasing due to new space activities, including use of large constellations of small satellites, and the growth of commercial space missions. Congestion in space challenges the ongoing safety, security and sustainability of space activities and space assets. There are now more than one million debris items larger than 1cm orbiting the Earth, and this number may grow exponentially as more than 100,000 additional satellites are planned for launch over the next ten years. These will only add to the increasing risk of damage and destruction to any satellite involved in case of a collision in space.

In this context, there is a necessity to develop a Space Traffic Management (STM) regime that encompasses the means and the rules to safely access, conduct activities in, and return from outer space. It would also aim to protect the Long-Term Sustainability (LTS) of space activities by ensuring that space remains a secure environment, even as global society relies ever more on space-based applications such as communications, navigation and Earth observation. This article examines those rules present in the current space legal framework that are relevant to the regulation of space traffic and analyses two key concepts for establishing a comprehensive STM regime, namely the monitoring of space activities through data access and information sharing, and appropriate coordination mechanisms between states, Space Agencies and private operators.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-418
Number of pages22
JournalAir and Space Law
Issue number4-5
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sept 2023
Externally publishedYes


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