The USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism hosted a panel in the Gould School of Law Wednesday afternoon to discuss legal policies and actions surrounding space travel.
The event was organized by Alex Kaplan, a second year student in the USC Gould School of Law and president of USC’s Space Law Society.
Rita Lauria, a professor at Annenberg and the founder of the legal firm Metalaw®.US, Julie Jiru, an attorney at SpaceX and Matthew Schaefer, a professor at the University of Nebraska served as panelists at the discussion on the future of space law as a legal field.
Space law is becoming increasingly important as more and more private companies invest in the space travel industry. SpaceX’s goal, for example, is to eventually enable people to live on other planets, according to its website.
Though all three panelists spoke on the same subject, each had a different perspective and area of expertise.
Jiru discussed the Space Act Agreement, a law that enabled the development of the fledging space transportation industry that exists today. Prior to 2004, collaboration between the government and private space firms was possible but, according to Jiru, was limited by the government’s Federal Acquisition Regulation contracts, which placed too much stress on young space companies.
“[A] Federal Acquisition Regulation contract is anywhere from 100 pages to 1000 pages, some are 2000 pages, some are 3000 pages, and it goes on,” Jiru said. “If you’ve worked with a FAR-based contract, you go by the mantra that you are not allowed to launch your launch vehicle unless your contractual paperwork is as heavy as that vehicle that you are trying to lift.”
Though legislation around space travel has since changed, companies interested in launching a spacecraft still face many liabilities.
“When it comes to third party liability, the current U.S. regime is this: The U.S. government requires the space operator to get insurance up to the maximum probable loss,” Schaeffer said. “The [Federal Aviation Administration] has a way that they calculate through a complex formula.”
Schaefer argued that government inaction and indecision, particularly in promising insurance coverage, was creating an unhealthy climate within the space industry.
“The government promises to take care of the next $2.7 billion, but it would take an active Congress and an actual appropriation to do it,” Schaeffer said. “Here is the bad thing: Congress has started promising that [amount] for lesser and lesser periods of time. That is tough on the industry for planning purposes.”
Another segment of space law, known as metalaw, looks at framing international law in the event of contact with extraterrestrial intelligent life.
“Metalaw seeks to establish a regulatory scheme for outer space that considers the possible existence of other intelligent life and that could be used to help regulate interactions between such possible life forms,” Lauria said.
Though metalaw focuses only on possibilities and not actuality, Lauria argued that the speed of technological advances and the slow pace of the legal response necessitated the urgency to speed the process to start considering actuality.
Even though the event was specifically about space law, some students saw it as an opportunity to learn more about law in general.
“From an undergraduate perspective, this was a good opportunity to get exposure to law, not to mention space law,” said Mabel Tsui, a senior majoring in communication. “Based on the information I have heard, it seems this is a fast-growing area of law.”
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