Space Briefing Book:
U.S. Space Law
Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team
U.S. legislation of existing space-related laws are compiled in Title 51 of the United States Code. Some important space laws include:
Passed long before the first spaceflight, the Communications Act has been amended over time to govern requirements for commercial satellite operations, licensing, and coordination in the use of the radio spectrum.
President Dwight Eisenhower signed the act in 1958, which established NASA as well as U.S. objectives in space: expanding space knowledge; creating and improving space vehicles; studies of benefits from space operation; preserving the United States as a space leader; and sharing discoveries with defense agencies.
Originally passed in 1984 and since amended, the law grants the U.S. Department of Transportation regulatory oversight of commercial spaceflight, it indemnifies companies for large third-party damages and it informs regulations for commercial human spaceflight.
Passed in 1984, the law principally concerned transferring the U.S. government-owned Landsat
satellite program to private industry, allowing companies to take over operation of the Earth-imaging satellite constellation.
The 1992 law repealed the Land Remote-Sensing Commercialization Act, as transfer to the private
sector of the U.S. government-owned Landsat proved problematic. The new law gave the Department of Commerce the power to license and regulate a U.S. commercial remote-sensing industry and to outsource the development of new Landsat components to the private sector.
The law was designed to encourage commercial spaceflight and innovation by: postponing significant regulatory oversight of private spaceflight companies until 2023; extending the period during which the government indemnifies commercial spaceflight companies for third-party damages beyond the company’s required liability insurance; and granting private companies the right to own resources collected in space, such as materials from asteroid mining.
The law permits commercial weather satellites and allows NOAA to purchase weather data from commercial weather satellite constellations.
NASA authorization focused on long-term deep space human exploration, investments in science, technology and aeronautics portfolios, and growing the commercial space sector. The law emphasizes maintaining NASA’s continuity of purpose across presidential administrations, and it also includes the TREAT Astronauts Act, which ensures medical treatment for astronauts whose health is affected by space missions.
Establishes the U.S. Space Force within the U.S. Air Force. The act identifies the new military service’s mission set, composition, general duties and chain of command.