St. Mary's Law Journal


Even though you cannot see it, catastrophe is brewing in near-Earth orbit. As a product of the Cold War, the legal regime governing geospace and beyond has presented mankind with a paradox. Though we are free to utilize space through peaceful means, the inability to appropriate space by any sovereign claim of right has triggered a modern-day tragedy of the commons, with the only restriction being the constraints of radio frequency interference. The destructive domino effect of space debris collisions threatens the invaluable communicative and scientific utility derived from satellites in geospace. International and domestic space jurisprudence encourage space debris mitigation, but without binding provisions, spacefarers will continue to favor economic incentives over conservation.

Any workable reimagining of the Corpus Juris Spatialis requires balancing the equities between capital investors and beneficiaries on Earth. Proposals for market share liability regimes, salvage law amendments, and environmental protocols can fill in existing gaps. Yet each of these solutions places inequitable burdens on those with a pre-existing presence in space. Using Garrett Hardin’s solutions to alleviate the negative utility of space activity, a coercive protocol to the Outer Space Treaty can moderate behavior while still permitting satellite acquisitions and exploration of the cosmos. By following the historical trend of airspace delimitation, jurists must first define the boundaries of geospace. Thereafter, applying a separate legal regime with a mutually coercive global liability provision in the geospace commons can save us from an otherwise inevitable prison for humanity.

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St. Mary's University School of Law


William Todd Keller, Jr.