Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The social world of Australian space

Last night it was the conference dinner at the Australian Space Development Conference in Adelaide. I didn't register for the conference, and have not seen a single paper - but I did the important events! The dinner was sponsored by Arianespace and each of us got a fabulous tacky Ariane souvenir, which I completely love of course: a highlighter pen disguised as an Ariane 5. They screened an Arianespace promotional DVD which was full of images of Kourou - the Jupiter control room, the Ariane 5 maquette, the BIL and the BAF etc, and it made me feel quite nostalgic about my week there in 2005.

Caught up with lots of Aussie space luminaries like Roger Franzen, Ian Tuohy, Gordon Pike, Bill Barrett, Naomi Mathers, Kirby Ikin and of course my ever charming friend Brett Biddington. Also met Lindsay Cambell, PR manager for Air Force's operations at Woomera, and we concocted some schemes. (Only I fear that I can't recall exactly what they were this morning - they sounded wonderful last night though!).

Michael Davis, Adelaide-based space lawyer who was responsible for the International Space University Summer Session in Adelaide a few years ago, suggested that I put in a submission to the Senate enquiry on Australian space. I had considered this, but was not sure what it would achieve. Someone else also asked me if I had done one, so given that people clearly see my input as valuable, I'm going to do it!

The delectable Anthony Wicht, engineer and space lawyer, allowed himself to be persuaded to be a co-author with Nigel Springbett-Bruer and I on the paper about - see below - the application of the World Heritage Convention to space.

I ended the evening discussing what a complete bastard Newton was with Michael Green, who must be only person I have ever met who has the read the entire Principia.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More on the mystery space junk in Queensland

Back in March, I was asked by ABC radio to identify a piece of space junk found near Charleville in Queensland. I determined that it was a Composite Overwrapped Pressure Vessel, from the upper stage of a rocket, and may have come from one of three launch vehicles predicted to re-enter in November 2007:

1. The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV, India; launched from Sriharikota)
2. Molniya-M (Russia, launched from Plesetsk)
3. Delta II (USA, launched from Cape Canaveral)

Last night at the Australian Space Development Conference I was talking to Dr Michael Green of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (who I must say was initially a little skeptical about the value of space heritage management, but I think I talked him round ...) and this object came up. Apparently the US have said it's not theirs, and Dr Green was going to write to the UN to investigate its source. So my previous research on this question has proved useful.

This of course is part of the Outer Space Treaty, under which states retain ownership of their space hardware no matter where it is.

I hope he was even more convinced of the value of space archaeology after that!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The World Heritage Convention and sites in outer space

The Australian Space Science Conference is coming up later in the year, and I've submitted the following poster abstract with one of my graduate students:

Space heritage: the application of the World Heritage Convention to sites in Outer Space

Mr Nigel Springbett-Bruer and Dr Alice Gorman
Flinders University


Since 1957, space enterprises have led to the creation of places and objects that have heritage value in Earth orbit, on the Moon, Mars and other celestial bodies, and in interplanetary space. Some, like the 1969 Apollo 11 landing site on the Moon, and Vanguard 1, the oldest surviving satellite in Earth orbit, might be argued to have heritage value on a global level. However, there are at present no legal or other instruments that provide heritage protection to sites such as these.

Currently, the World Heritage Convention (WHC) can only be applied to immovable places and objects in terrestrial contexts, and the application of national heritage legislation to outer space is problematic as it can be interpreted as tantamount to making a territorial claim in contravention of the Outer Space Treaty. This poster reports on a study investigating the status of the World Heritage Convention and the Outer Space Treaty as customary international law, as determined by the number of signatory states and the extent to which they are observed by the international community. We argue that the WHC and relevant provisions of the Outer Space Treaty have achieved such a status, and hence provide an avenue for the WHC to be applied to heritage in outer space and on other celestial bodies. While there are many other conceptual difficulties in applying the WHC to space, this is a starting point for the creation of an internationally agreed framework for the recognition and management of globally significant heritage sites in outer space.


Part of the argument is that the intersection of the Outer Space Treaty and the World Heritage Convention lies in the idea of space as a global commons. As is always the case with these things the bones are there and we have much thinking and research yet to do to flesh it out properly - but I'm excited, with Nigel's help, to be taking this tiny step into the quagmire of space law.