The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, a.k.a. the Outer Space Treaty (OST), was signed into force in 1967. It is the principal legal instrument used by humanity regarding space activities. Given the rapid growth of the anthropogenic space object (ASO) population, namely several actively controlled clusters of satellites in low earth orbit (LEO), I find Article VI of the OST to be of particular interest. It states, inter alia, that States Parties to the Treaty shall provide authorization to and continuing supervision of the activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies. My interpretation of this is that no entity will operate in space without authorization and having its activities conducted under continuing supervision, this last part implying that no activity will be unsupervised.
Supervision means oversight and critical watching, and making sure that all activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the OST. To wit, States Parties to the OST cannot be ignorant of the activities performed by non-governmental entities under its responsibility. I can guarantee that no government is able to provide continuing supervision, as I have interpreted it, and much less so with the growing number of satellites being added to the ASO population. Governments seem to do quite well in providing authorization but should be reminded and held accountable to humanity for not also providing continuing supervision.
It’s only a matter of time before we experience an undesirable outcome of our commercial space activities. What will be the body of evidence required to understand its cause and proceed with consequences if need be, under the treaty of liability and damage, say. This is a significant and glaring issue that remains unresolved and will likely be to the detriment of our use of space. I recommend that nation states require non-governmental actors to provide them with the data and information needed for them to actually be able to provide continuing supervision of their space activities. Otherwise, these non-governmental entities should not be provided with authorization.