UHLC alums tell students space law is a vibrant specialty as many legal frontiers lie ahead

Giugli Carminati ’08 outlines the myriad laws and regulations governing space.

Rebecca Bresnik, ’08 LL.M., tells students the future of space research and exploration is bright at NASA.

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Nov. 15, 2013 – Two University of Houston Law Center alums whose career paths pointed them toward the law of outer space say the future of that legal specialty is bright because of continual advances in space-related research and exploration.

Space law is not science fiction,” said Giugli Carminati ’08, whose expertise in space law focuses on liability exposure and licensing of commercial space operators. “It exists. It is vibrant, fresh, and it is here.” Carminati, a commercial litigator with the firm of Berg & Androphy, also teaches pre-trial litigation as an adjunct at the Law Center.

Rebecca Bresnik, ’08 LL.M. in International Law, has ties to space exploration on multiple levels. She has worked for 10 years at NASA where she is Assistant Chief Counsel for International Matters and she is married to Astronaut Randy Bresnik, who walked in space in 2009. Bresnik spends the majority of her time dealing with International Space Station matters.

On Monday, Carminati promised a lunch hour gathering of students “a very quick primer on what space law is all about” and delivered with a rapid fire overview of the various international, national, and state regulatory bodies, treaties, laws, agreements, restrictions, and waivers governing the proverbial final frontier.

On the international level, dating back to 1958 there is the United Nation’s Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space with 70 member states; the U.N. Office of Outer Space Affairs, which maintains a registry of objects in space; and the International Telecommunications Union, which allocates radio spectrums and satellite orbits; in addition to other agencies.

U.N. treaties also define and regulate the laws governing the use and development of space. Space itself, for example, is defined as “the province of all mankind.” In other words, Carminati said, “it’s not ‘nobody’ that owns space, but ‘everybody.’ ” The agreements prohibit weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies; define astronauts as “envoys of all mankind;” provide for the return of astronauts and space objects; specify liability, including loss of life; and require registration of objects in space. There are also a number of non-binding resolutions, she said.

On the national level, space falls under the purview of the FAA, Departments of Transportation, Defense, and State and various other agencies. While regulations cover everything from initial licensing application, vehicle design, safety, insurance, and environmental review to launch and re-entry, there are no requirements for medical standards or training of passengers. Space travel is “at your own peril,” Carminati said.

On the state level, some are “space friendly” while others are not, she said as her time wound down for her presentation hosted by the International Law Society. “States have tried very hard to help the industry, but so far have not done very well.”

On Tuesday, Bresnik spoke to a similar ILS gathering with a focus on NASA and the legal challenges that lie ahead.

The bulk of her duties deal with ensuring that partner nations comply with terms of the International Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement of 1998. Signatories of that treaty, which outlines all aspects of design, operation, and utilization of the space station, are the U.S., Russia, Canada, Japan and member states of the European Space Agency (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.)

There is much give and take, she said, with negotiating and bargaining to resolve various issues and get things done. “It’s not about money. It’s about bargaining,” she said. “It’s really just us working together as partners.”

NASA’s future is bright, she said, with development of the Orion deep-space exploration vehicle which is designed to carry as many as six astronauts to Mars and beyond. A greater emphasis also is being placed on expanding research opportunities aboard the space station to more universities, non-profits, and commercial enterprises. A “huge milestone” recently, she said,  was contracting with private entities to re-supply the space station instead of NASA having to rely on its partners.

Bresnik and her NASA colleagues will face numerous legal challenges in dealing with future space station issues, she said, including regulating commercial use; utilization agreements among various partner nations; limits and liabilities concerning “space tourists;” and setting priorities among the various government agencies, commercial, and non-profit entities that want to conduct research in space.

“We are doing a lot,” she said, despite cutbacks. “It’s sad that some people think we are closed down.”

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