State responsibility plays a significant part in international space law, functioning as the position of authority over national activities, but also of authorization and continuing supervision. Responsibility in space law covers the activities carried out by governmental agencies and non-governmental entities, as well as international organizations.
State Parties to the Outer Space Treaty take the blame if national space activities do not conform with their international obligations, hence the need to grant authorizations, generally combined with technical and administrative requirements to meet, to better monitor their governmental agencies’ and non-governmental entities’ endeavors. Authorization often comes with registration of the objects launched into outer space and, therefore, jurisdiction and control over such objects or component parts.
Responsibility is a notion of general international law and of space law. States and governmental international organizations are under the obligation to obey the rules of public international law. That means inter alia to honor the obligation entered into under a bilateral or multilateral treaty or not to harm other parties. In case of a breach of this primary obligation the obligation changes into so-called secondary obligations as contained in the “Principles on State Responsibility” (Draft of the ILC, see Annex to UNGA Res. 56/83 of the ÚNGA of 12 December 2001) adopted by the International Law Commission and accepted by the General Assembly of the United Nations. The United Nations have also adopted “Rules on the Responsibility of International Organisations”. In the area of secondary obligations some kind of reparation of the damage of having violated primary rules of international law are owed. They can be owed in the form of natural of immaterial compensation, e.g. in the form of an apology or in the form of the payment of damages. Under Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 States are responsible for that private persons acting on their behalf do fulfill the obligation to authorize and supervise private space activities.
The concept of State responsibility runs throughout public international law. Space law makes the State responsible for compliance with the provisions of the OST. Breach of this obligation as any other in public international law invokes State responsibility for which the State must make reparation for prejudicial consequences caused to others. An important feature of responsibility for activities in outer space not normally present in public international law is the assimilation of actions by private persons to the State. The extent and cope of responsibility under the OST need careful analysis of the wording and context. These include the meaning of national activities and international responsibility and the nature and level of supervision required. State parties to the Outer Space Treaty 1967 (“OST”) have international responsibility for national activities in outer space. This invokes three separate obligations to: 1. Ensure that national activities conform to the requirements of the OST; 2. Authorise and continually supervise non-governmental activities; and 3. Bear international responsibility for activities in outer space. For the State to bear responsibility it follows that national activities must be those conducted by State agencies or persons subject to the State’s jurisdiction. Although national laws differ and may create varying obligations, the State has international responsibility, confining the obligation to compliance with international law, breach of which would incur State responsibility. Acts of non-governmental entities are attributed to the State.