Privatization of space: Sky is no longer the limit – Marine/ Shipping

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Do you remember the feeling of wandering through unfamiliar cities or traversing uncharted territories before the introduction of GPS systems? Have you ever thought what it means for a sailor to have the ability to contact loved ones wherever their ship is in the world? Do you remember that amazing feeling when you first tracked an airplane on your laptop or when you first connected to the internet on a plane across oceans? All these simple actions that are now part of our daily lives can only be carried out thanks to a satellite or a constellation of satellites often as big as a finger revolving around the world. All of the above is the result of the commercialization of space. In fact, with private entities having gained access to space over the past two decades, interest in space as an industry has sparked. Such interest is not surprising given that the space industry is estimated to reach around $2.3 trillion by 2030. The EU itself has allocated over €16 billion to boost this sector .

We are living in the next industrial revolution. An era based on accessible, sustainable and inclusive technology destined to change the way we live. Space is the instrument through which most of the world’s information will be conveyed in the future. No need for wires or cables. Everyone on earth, even in the most remote region of the globe, will be able to access the Internet and therefore reach everyone. The space industry is not limited to space tourism activities, but includes more traditional military and defense fields, as well as communication and R&D development fields that have a tangible influence on our daily lives. The fact that the sky and orbits are theoretically within everyone’s reach is a game-changer and constitutes an opportunity that an open economy like ours cannot miss.

Space activities have always been associated with state-led programs, mainly under the duopoly of the defunct Soviet Union and the United States. During the Cold War period, private operators were denied access to commercial space activities and no private organization could offer space launches: private entities participated in space programs only as subcontractors to government organizations. Both the US civilian space program and the Soviet space program would operate using primarily military pilots as astronauts.

Although the US Communications Satellite Act of 1962 allowed commercial consortia to launch satellites through the deployment of state-owned launch vehicles, it was not until the 21st century that private activities saw a surge and a more tangible presence in our orbits. In fact, at the beginning of the 2000s, the American authorities encouraged the space intervention of private actors by financing a series of programs intended to encourage private companies to offer both cargo space transport services and, later , crew.

The introduction of lower and standard prices for launch services after 2010 has made the skies and orbits accessible to everyone. Not a thing for big states but a universe for everyone. Even earlier, the Commercial Space Launch Amendment Act of 2004 updated by the Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship Act of 2015 had legalized private spaceflight. Similar initiatives have also been introduced by major space nations such as Australia and the UK, with new players such as Luxembourg and Dubai emerging on the scene. The liberalization of the 1990s allowed aviation to grow from a stagnant sector to one of the most dynamic sectors in the world. The proportion of space privatization will be even larger.

Unification of laws and regulations

Laws and regulations in a civilized world are the equivalent of a captain’s lighthouse. Over the past 100 years, shipping and aviation have required the drafting, ratification, implementation and updating of dozens of international conventions. Rules brought uniformity and therefore stability, certainty and efficiency. These treaties have played a fundamental role in the steady and steady growth of these sectors, as it is only through the unification of laws and regulations across the world that ship and aircraft operators from different jurisdictions and origins were able to operate smoothly in the same global environment. .

The only 5 international conventions regulating space (shipping itself is regulated by more than 50 international conventions) adopted in the 1960s are almost entirely outdated and do not reflect the technological advances made in the sector in recent decades and the recent entry of private entities. . Several aspects such as the responsibility of States are addressed in an anachronistic approach, while those concerning the management of space debris are totally absent. The legal vacuum in this area has forced countries and space agencies to act on their own through various soft law instruments. The result is confusion and a lack of uniform measures as our orbits become increasingly crowded with the risk of regular collisions. Space is not a “no man’s land”, in the sense that measures should not be adopted unilaterally. The economic exploitation of space should only be done if common rules are adopted for the benefit of all and the preservation of the environment.

In the meantime, attempts to introduce common rules have been made. For example, the Convention on international warranties in mobile equipment (the “Agreement”) and the Space Assets Protocol (The “Berlin Protocol”) promoted by Unidroit. The objective of the Berlin Protocol is to make asset-based financing more accessible by creating a uniform regime, through the use of a centralized electronic register, intended to govern the creation, enforceability and execution of international guarantees on space assets in such a way that creditors benefit from basic remedies in the event of default and insolvency and, in the event of default, the possibility of obtaining almost immediate relief while the claims on the merits are still pending . Its entry into force will be a step towards a new era for the financing of space assets and, hopefully, the beginning of a unified space law.

Malta: replicating success in the aviation and shipping sector

Malta should look to the experience of countries like Luxembourg and the Isle of Man, which are similar in size and resources to Malta. In these countries, incredible energy has been devoted to achieving a single goal: to break into this sector with a good dose of innovation and efficiency. Our starting point should be decades of experience in licensing and registering assets such as seagoing vessels and aircraft, bearing in mind that the space industry requires more agility and an extremely responsive attitude to technological advances and challenges.

The lack of physical space, which usually represents the biggest handicap for the expansion of the shipping and aviation sector, can be overcome quite easily in Malta through mobile launching platforms such as ships , aircraft and oil rigs. Malta could also create a vital manufacturing sector focused on microchip production and product assembly. This would attract the creation of a new and qualified workforce made up of engineers and specialized technicians

All of this can be achieved through forward-looking bodies made up of competent and passionate people, an achievable goal.

Malta can and must become the epicenter of a tangible industry whose effects can be seen by the whole community. From assembly to launch to legal and related services beyond because for the first time in Maltese history the sky is no longer the limit.

Originally published by Times of Malta, 16 November 2021

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