Centring Environmentalism in Space Governance: Interrogating Dominance and Authority Through a Critical Legal Geography of Outer Space

Alessandra Marino, Thomas Cheney*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


This article brings into conversation scholarship in law and the social studies of outer space around the question of the “uses” of outer space, the shortcomings of existing legal instruments, and the possibility to reform them to place environmental concerns at their core. Starting from the Outer Space Treaty (OST), and using legal geography and an environmental lens, we highlight the interconnections between de-territorializing outer space, the image of the province of (hu)mankind, and the seemingly consequent egalitarian principle of benefit sharing. By reading this language of the OST against its historical context, we note that these seemingly egalitarian clauses mask the persisting hegemony of older space powers in access to and benefits from outer space. In this context, environmental protection clauses originally proposed by Japan, which were marginalized in the drafting of the OST, remain marginal to many governance mechanisms. Even when we decentre the OST and look at multiple legal and governance frameworks of outer space, from Planetary Protection to the International Telecommunications Union, these different approaches reiterate a utilitarian view of space environments that ties them to their usefulness to exploration and exploitation. These mechanisms, while useful for de-homogenizing outer space, do not go far enough in proposing that environmental protection underpins all principles of space governance. One of the effects of this failure is that more technically able nations keep crowding the orbits with megaconstellations. We propose an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the complex interrelation between space governance, geopolitics, and concerns about the future of outer space environments. A critical legal geography of outer space provides us with a possibility to examine the role of the law in relation to both geographical imaginaries and historical contexts and advance discussions on the role and responsibilities of humans beyond the planet we inhabit.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101521
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalSpace Policy
Early online date2 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2023
Externally publishedYes

Cite this