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SSSS Opinion: A Maritime Crisis’s Contributions to the Field of Space Traffic Management

This op-ed is published in a joint endeavor between the Strauss Center’s Space Security, Safety, and Sustainability (SSSS) program, SpaceWatch and TXSLAPS.

In March of this year, the giant container vessel “Ever Given” disrupted global commerce when it was lodged into the bank of the Suez Canal for nearly a week. According to Reuters, about twelve percent of total global trade passes through this canal. At the time of the blockage, global trade routes had already been severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, making the weight of the blockage all the more pronounced. In addition to generating a slew of blue-ribbon memes, this event produced important lessons learned for the field of space traffic management.

Analogies are often made between the policy spheres of maritime law and space law, given that both pertain to a physical space with no clear regulatory jurisdiction, or perhaps overlapping regulatory jurisdictions. As stipulated by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) the “territorial sea”—that which is the sovereign jurisdiction of a given country—encompasses the twelve nautical miles of coastal waters extending from that country’s shores. Beyond this “territorial sea” lies the “exclusive economic zone” where the coastal country exerts the exclusive right to conduct economic activities, such as the establishment of fisheries and/or mineral resource mining. Beyond this economic zone—which ends at a maximum of two hundred nautical sea miles—lies the high seas. It is the high seas which most resemble near-earth space. While there is disagreement surrounding precisely where space begins from a legal perspective, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale defines the boundary of outer space at the so-called Karman Line, which is at 100 kilometers above the mean sea level. Most countries accept this as the official demarcation.

For the rest of this op-ed by Alyssa Goessler, please read it on SpaceWatch.Global here.

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