Star Laws: Criminal Jurisdiction in Outer Space

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In August 2019, reports emerged of NASA investigating an allegation that an astronaut committed a crime in space. This gives rise to the question: what criminal law is to guide individuals in outer space? The answer has broad consequences because human activity in space is increasing, including with respect to developments in exploration, commercialization, weaponization and tourism, which means there will be new types of extraterrestrial interactions. Space is also relevant for many aspects of human life. Remote sensing technologies can be applied to global health initiatives, agricultural development, environment monitoring, disaster management, education, transportation, communication and humanitarian aid projects. This Article considers the jurisdiction of criminal law in space and challenges readers to consider the effects of nationality, delineation, space tourism and private operators. To do so, we identify three categories of potential crimes to which different jurisdictional rules may apply: crimes committed on the International Space Station, crimes committed on commercial space vessels and crimes committed in space other than on a space vessel or the International Space Station. Ultimately, we conclude that existing principles of extraterritorial criminal jurisdiction are not ideal for the unique challenges of space and that development of a specialized jurisdictional regime is necessary.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-75
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Space Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


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