Out of this world law paper at Waikato University
The University of Waikato is boldly going where no other Kiwi university has gone before.
The Faculty of Law’s Dr Anna Marie Brennan has launched a new paper for its summer programme — space law.
It will cover everything from the implications of a Donald Trump “space force” to looking at where outer space even begins. The paper is a first for any New Zealand university and is only one of a handful around the world.
Dr Brennan started at the university in July but even before sheleft her former post in Liverpool, she told the department’s head that she wanted to create the paper. With support from management, it’s taken off and she’s got 27 students, some of whom are university staff, also learning space tourism and advising corporations around breaches of satellites.
“Space law as a subject is starting to take off in the United Kingdom but there’s still only one institution there that offers it as a subject.”
She said she’d been fascinated with space since looking up at the stars with her parents as kid.
“I think it’s just since I was a child looking up at the stars, and seeing comets and planets being pointed out to me by my parents . . . [I’m] very into sci-fi movies.”
She covered international law, war crimes and genocide before space law. New Zealand had a burgeoning space industry scene, thanks to Kiwi company Rocket Lab.
“I set up an establishment paper which I thought would be quite useful because New Zealand has recently passed new legislation and establishment of a new safe responsible secure space industry, so ultimately the paper aims to provide students with an understanding of some of the key space law issues that are currently confronting New Zealand.”
The Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Act 2017, covered issues including granting permission to Rocket Lab to launch three sites for its commercial rockets.
“Rocket Lab is very much of the view that New Zealand potentially in the future will be launching more commercial rockets into outer space than the US,” she said. There was huge potential for New Zealand to develop a sophisticated, technologydriven space industry.
“The aim of the paper is how to practice in the area of space law so they can advise both states and corporations regarding space law issues, including if a contract of a satellite is breached, what should happen.”
Although space was governed by the international 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which only allows for the use of the Moon and other celestial bodies for peaceful purposes, there were still a plethora of issues that still needed to be ironed out.
A crucial one was clarification over where national space ended and outer space began. Another was Trump’s proposed extraterrestrial “space force”, an idea Dr Brennan believed was redundant given the treaty’s peace focus.
“If you were going to put together this kind of space force, outer space has a particular detrimental impact on the human body from the point of the muscles exposure to radiation etc.”
There was also space tourism and the implications of liability if someone was injured on a commercial trip.
“Some students thought they would be studying aliens and Darth Vader, what you do if you meet Darth Vader in outer space,” she says. “We do touch on issues like that where you look at if conflict broke out in space.”