Have you been injured in a space debris accident that wasn’t your fault?

Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite

Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite

If so, you may be eligible for a cash settlement.  Just call 0800-555-2368 in confidence and start feeling better – today!

NASA has moved to reassure people that the risk to (human) life from the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) is only 1 in 3,200.  Not much comfort if it’s your head it lands on.

And what if you are injured?  Can you sue the US Government?  The answer is – kind of, yes!

According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs:

Who owns satellites and other space objects that inadvertently return to earth or become “lost” in outer space ? Can they be claimed by anybody able to salvage them ?

The Outer Space Treaty states that ownership of objects launched into outer space, including objects landed or constructed on a celestial body, and of their component parts, is not affected by their presence in outer space or on a celestial body or by their return to earth. In other words, satellites and other space objects remain the property of their original owners regardless of their location. The Outer Space Treaty and the Rescue Agreement then go on to specifically provide for the return of all space objects or their component parts to their original launching authority or state of registry if they are discovered or recovered in a foreign territory or on the high seas.

Are States liable for damages which might be caused by their space objects in outer space or on the Earth?

According to the Outer Space Treaty and the Liability Convention, States Parties that launch or procure the launch of an object into outer space, or from whose territory or facility an object is launched, are internationally liable for damage caused by that object or its component parts. Such damage includes loss of life, personal injury or other impairment of health; or loss of or damage to property of States or of persons, natural or juridical (ie companies etc.), or of international organizations. The Liability Convention provides for damage suffered on the surface of the Earth, to aircraft in flight, and to other space objects or persons and property on such other space objects.

So private individuals and companies suffering damages from a space object could sue the launching State?

Claims under the Liability Convention for compensation for damages caused by space objects can only be presented through diplomatic channels by States on their own behalf, on behalf of their nationals, on behalf of persons suffering damage within their territory, or on behalf of their permanent residents. Also, the Liability Convention does not apply in the case of damages suffered by a launching State’s own nationals. However, the Liability Convention specifically states that nothing in its provisions shall prevent a State, or natural or juridical persons it might represent, from pursuing a claim in the courts or administrative tribunals or agencies of a launching State.

So, you can make a claim under the Liability Convention – but not if it’s your own country’s space junk which destroyed your farm, and the claim should probably go through “diplomatic channels”.  No mention of what to do if a baby boy from a now-dead planet crash lands in your rural idyll and starts displaying superpowers though …

If you are interested in this area of law, please see our page of space law links.

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