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Publication Date


Publication Title

Journal of Space Law


space, space law, rescue, treaties, vienna convention


International space law has long imposed a duty to rescue astronauts and return errant spacecraft to the launching state. However, the existing space law treaties contain a number of gaps and interpretational problems that, among other things, call into question whether the duty to rescue and return applies to space tourists and spacecraft owned by private companies. These issues are of critical importance to the survival of the new space tourism industry, which is made up of a growing number of companies - such as Virgin Galactic, Rocketplane, and Blue Origin - that intend to launch their maiden flights in 2010. The success of these companies will depend on the safety of their passengers and their ability to recover their spacecraft in the event of an accident or unintentional landing in unfriendly territory. This Article makes the case for an expansive interpretation of the treaties which would require states to rescue space tourists and return private spacecraft. In addition to arguing for a broad interpretation of the duty to rescue and return, this Article explores how the existing treaties should be amended to remedy the flaws, gaps, and ambiguities in the law and what the best procedure for amendment would be. Finally, the Article makes a series of recommendations to assist space tourism companies in formulating their rescue and recovery policies to ensure the safety of their customers and minimize potential liabilities in light of existing space law.