Space is beyond vast. It’s Stephen Hawking-ly huge. In fact, we don’t really know how big it is. Or who else is out there. It is one of the most attractive places in which man’s limitless potential can be realised. The appeal is vast. Just look at Musk, Bezos and Branson are pushing the boundaries of technology and imagination every day. But as Stan Lee said about Spiderman, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. So how on Earth are we going to regulate and manage a place that isn’t… on Earth? Say ‘hello’ to Space law.
Space law officially began in 1967 when those at the forefront of space exploration, the United States, Soviet Union and United Kingdom created the Outer Space Treaty. (For those who love obscure pub quiz questions, it was originally known as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of Space Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.) In essence, Space law is a branch of international and national laws which governs space-related activities. Space even has its own constitution. Bet you didn’t know that. Today, 107 countries have ratified the treaty, while another 23 have just signed it. After the United Nations, it’s probably the biggest collaboration of countries we’ve seen. And, given space’s potential, it needs to be.
The Outer Space Treaty constitution forms the basis of international Space law. It establishes that outer space and any celestial bodies are free for exploration and use by all States. No nation can claim sovereignty over the moon, planets, asteroids or any other bodies. Placing a flag on the moon may look nice Mr Armstrong but it isn’t legal. Space belongs to everybody.
The really important part of the treaty, that all nations agree with, is that exploration is ‘only for peaceful purposes’. Placing nuclear missiles or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit, on the moon, or anywhere else in space is strictly prohibited.
Although space is everyone’s, the State that launches a space object such as a satellite, retains jurisdiction and control over that object. The launching State is also liable for damages caused by the object. We’ve all seen the film Gravity, so know what damage an accident can cause. So space isn’t to be treated like the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe or rush hour in downtown Delhi.
Space is limitless with limitless potential. Thanks to ‘low’ cost reusable launch vehicles it is possible for space visionaries like Hiber to make the dream of access to the IoT easy and affordable for everyone a reality. Unlike the industrial Robber Barons of centuries before, today’s new pioneers understand their responsibilities to everyone on our beautiful planet. That Space law is there for the good of all mankind. To keep us and our planet safe for future generations. Complying with it isn’t just the legal thing to do, it is the right thing to do.
Satellite telecommunications have always been at the forefront of space innovation. First Sputnik in 1957 and Telstar in 1962. Today, over 60 years later, our reliance on satellites is greater than ever. Mobile phones, updating your social status, streaming a video, even turning on your heating remotely, all rely on satellites in orbit. And it’s not slowing down.
So vital is telecoms technology for everyone on Earth, that there’s been a body regulating communications since 1865, way before the Outer Space Treaty was considered. How visonionary is that. Today, it’s called the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and it’s a specialized agency for telecommunications. Amongst its many responsibilities it regulates the radio spectrum to avoid interference between operators and applications including wireless transmission of data. After all, you wouldn’t want to go make a call only for your remote driverless car to power up.
In addition to international authorities, anyone wanting to launch anything into space has to abide by the rules of their own National Regulatory Agencies (NRAs). For a Dutch connectivity company like Hiber, this means not only being bound by the five existing international Space Treaties, but also by Dutch national law in order to successfully develop an approved connectivity network.
The role of a NRA is key in securing orbital positions and using frequencies. They decide the best position in outer space to place an object in order to avoid collisions and have an ongoing watching brief on every object already orbiting. If it changes trajectory or has a technical issue they are the first to know. This is because individual States are internationally responsible and potentially liable for their countrymen’s or countrywomen’s actions in outer space. On top of all of the above, (and trust us we’ve only mentioned a few of the key rules and regulations), if you want to provide the service to different markets you may need to deal with each individual country’s NRA!
So when Hiber decided to launch its innovative nano satellites at 600 km and fly from pole to pole, they made sure every NRA was onboard to ensure there would be no near misses, crashes or interference with existing services.
Of course, you could choose to ignore International Space law and national regulations. Nobody likes all that paperwork do they? Last year, one satellite company did just that. Not a smart move. It launched tiny satellites without government approval. After the launch it emerged that the company was denied a license for the satellites by their NRA. This resulted in a hefty fine. Having to show how they will comply with all future NRA requirements. Plus they now have to submit reports to their NRA before every launch for the next 3 years. That is if their investors still keep faith in them for that long.
Space and connectivity start-ups, like Hiber, are in the ‘space race’ not the ‘space stroll’. They work really fast. Regulation and approval processes are often seen as a pain. They slow things down. The answer though is to engage regulators as early as possible. Potential issues and delays around ownership, registration, jurisdiction, control and liability can be built into a development process. By adopting this open-minded attitude, Hiber has managed to operate in compliance with all applicable national and international laws and regulations within two years. You think how long it takes your local authority to fix a hole in the road and you’ll appreciate how amazing that is. In today’s globally regulated space, that gives governments, NGOs, corporate partners and investors a huge reassurance for the long-term.
Hiber’s dream is to provide easy affordable access to the IoT for everyone on Earth. Be that in the darkest jungle, busiest city, remotest ocean, highest mountain, polar wastes or, as they often to say, your Mom’s backyard. Thanks to its nano satellite technology this will soon be a reality. Amazingly, this has been achieved in under three years.
The secret to Hiber’s success is not just its innovative new technology but its understanding of the importance of Space law. Compliance was a Hiber a priority since the day the company was started. It has its own legal department, not a team of expensive lawyers on retainer, which works continuous together with all relevant governments and agencies. By showcasing that it operates according to all the relevant laws and regulations potential customers of all sizes know you are the safe bet.
Today, this compliance-positive approach has put Hiber in pole position to ‘conquer’ space. Already they have obtained important approvals including its own national telecommunications license through the Dutch NRA, named Agentschap Telecom. Its nano satellites or cubesats as some people call them are registered in the Dutch national register, in accordance with the Outer Space Treaty. Information of these satellites has been provided to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), on the basis of the same Treaty. Whilst last month Hiber completed the entire laws and regulations ‘checkbox’.
Now we’re going to get a little technical here.
Hiber has secured a key position in the UHF frequency, namely 400MHz. Together with L-band, the 400MHz is the perfect frequency for IoT. As L-band is occupied by the traditional satellite operators, Hiber opted for UHF to ensure a global standard, with low power and low cost potential. Having your own frequency is perfect to provide truly global connectivity and to avoid interference with other operators and applications.
As you’ve probably gathered in this longer than normal article, the satellite telecommunications industry is a highly competitive market and dealing with different Space laws and national regulations can be complex.
But when companies do play by and follow the rules they know they’re making the world, space and the worlds beyond a better place for future generations.
It also stops Hiber’s CEO breaking out in a cold sweat when someone mentions the word ‘compliance’.
Hiber is a Dutch-based company with headquarters in Amsterdam and research facility in Delft. It also operates out of California. In late October 2018 it successfully launched its first two nano satellites from California and India. It was also voted the Amazon Web Services Commercial Start-Up Launch of the Year, 2018. (Previous winners include Pinterest and AirBnB.)
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