Musk’s Roadster Exploring Space – It’s Legality
This Blog is written by Sidhida Varma S. from Government Law College, Thiruvananthapuram. Edited by Yash Jain.
We have seen people sending a lot of obnoxious items to space – Cats, dogs, guitars, and so on. But it got even more interesting when Elon Musk sent his $100,000 worth cherry red convertible Tesla Roadster at the start of 2018.
The Roadster is a dummy payload, which was launched using the most powerful operational rocket known as the Falcon Heavy. A dummy payload refers to the boilerplate, which is a non-functional craft.
It is interesting to note that the driver seat is occupied by a mannequin dressed in a spacesuit. And, the dummy at the wheel listens to David Bowie.
FACTS AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ROADSTER
• The roadster has traveled farther than any other car in the world in history since it’s launch.
• It is estimated that, if we drive through every single road in the world, for more than 22 times, then also we will not be able to say that we have travelled at least near to what the roadster has travelled.
• The roadster is not burning any fuel but is travelling faster than any fighter jets.
• The Falcon Heavy acted like a slingshot rendering the roadster initial boost and speed.
• The roadster is now on an elliptical path circling the sun.
• In November 2018, it reached Mars, which can be treated as a first stop. Now the journey to a hundred million miles has only started.
• It completes about one full orbit around in 557 days.
• It is intended that; if the roadster is fortunate enough and not get struck by an asteroid, then it will orbit around the next few million years.
• whereisroadster.com provides the online status of the roadster, which will help us to track the same.
• Cost Effective and Reusability – The Falcon Heavy being the most powerful reusable space rocket, it contains reusable booster rockets that detach and fly back to earth. This can be reused for another launch. This saves billions of money.
• The mannequin which occupies the driver’s seat is named Starman. The starman’s right-hand holds the steering and left hand is resting on the door, and the dashboard screen reads – “Don’t Panic”
• The roadster has a camera which used to have a Livestream on Youtube. As the camera ran out of battery now the live stream had to be stopped.
“Just bear in mind that there is a good chance this monster rocket blows up”
– Elon Musk, SpaceX, CEO
ISSUES – LEGAL AND OTHERWISE
While many international newspapers and journals claimed it as a publicity stunt, they were of the opinion that the launch of the roadster is useless and pointless. The Business Insider even sarcastically commented that – ‘one of the greatest commercials ever made without spending a dime’.
Musk was of the opinion that this is far more than a publicity stunt as this is one of the innovative and creative works of art to spread humanity to other planets.
2. The question of space debris
Space debris refers to the manmade objects in space principally, which are no longer functioning on Earth orbit.
• The US Space Surveillance Network in 2019 reported that nearly 20,000 artificial objects are in the earth’s orbit. These space junks can be a hazard to active satellites and space crafts. It was theorized that, if the risk of collision grows too high, the earth’s orbit will be impossible to pass.
• It will be hazardous to crew and uncrewed spacecraft as well.
• These debris will burn back up in the atmosphere and fall back to earth, which can be dangerous to human and animal life on earth. It will damage property and life.
• Musk’s falcon heavy, according to some experts, does possess the risk of space debris.
• The environmental impact of the space debris is still in discussion.
3. Is it legal or not?
There are three international spaces – Antarctica, Outer Space, and High Seas. In these international spaces, no particular state has absolute jurisdiction. Space law is an evolving area of law. It has very few precedents, guidance, or case laws relating to it.
• The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 is a Treaty on principles governing the activities of states in exploration and use of outer space. As per this Treaty, the outer space is free for exploration and is used by all states on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law.
• Article II of the Treaty bars any kind of national appropriation by claim of sovereignty by means of use or occupation. The roadster is indeed not violating this provision.
• Article IX lays down that; with regards to the conduct of activities in outer space, the same must be done corresponding interests of all other State Parties to the Treaty. – The roadster revolving around outer space, zooming and exploring celestial bodies is not violative of this Article.
• Further, Article IX also says that outer space or celestial bodies should not be subject to any contamination.
• Article VI of the treaty provides that the States have responsibility to ensure that activities done by the nationalists are in compliance with the provisions of the Treaty. The United States through licensing regulations ensures the above said criteria.
• The Treaty is primarily made so that the activities of outer space can be controlled and made in accordance with or in compliance with international laws. ( example – it should be in conformity with International Environmental Law)
• Musk’s roadster is however in conformity with international laws.
The Lotus Case
The case is a dispute case between Turkey and France decided by the Permanent Court of International Justice. This case led to the formation of the ‘Lotus Principle’. It was held that whatever is not forbidden under international law is permitted.
CONCLUSION AND ANALYSIS
As it is visible that Musk’s roadster is not violating any laws and is in conformity with the International Laws, we can say that it is legal and no legal issues can be raised right now. As per the Lotus Principle, if the matter in question is not forbidden under international law, it is permitted. By applying the same, Musk’s roadster can be put in a safe position as of now. But, it is to be noted that space laws are ever-evolving, and currently, there is a lacuna with regards to several aspects relating to the space missions. Although the application of the lotus principle creates a safe space for the roadster, it is to be viewed with an open mind. Several experts are of the view that the lotus principle is being misused by many. But when it comes to Musk’s roadster, as of now, let us consider this project as valid and legal as it is in conformity with the international laws.
3. S. Lotus (Fr. v. Turk.), 1927 P.C.I.J. (ser. A) No. 10