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Workshop: The Legal Framework of Suborbital Flights – Perspective from Air Law and Space Law

On 19 October 2023, the European Space Policy Institute (ESPI) hosted and supported the organization of a workshop titled “The Legal Framework of Suborbital Flights – Perspectives from Air Law and Space Law.” The event was part of a two-days’ workshop organized by the Space Law Committee of the International Law Association (ILA) in collaboration with the University of Vienna, the National Point of Contact (Austria) of the European Centre for Space Law (ECSL), the Institute of Air, Space and Cyber Law of the University of Cologne and the Federal Ministry of Climate Action, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology (BMK). 

The primary objective of this Workshop was to facilitate a meaningful exchange of perspectives on the emerging challenges associated with defining and regulating high altitude activities. This takes stock of the Side Event during the 62nd session of UN COPUOS Legal Sub-Committee organised by ESPI under the title “Space or High Altitude: What’s in a Name?” held on 23 March 2023. 

High altitude activities occur in an undefined area, above the range of air traffic control but lacking the intention of entering orbit. Hence, there is ambiguity regarding whether these activities should be categorized as space activities or air activities. This topic has gathered attention both on the aviation and space fronts within the international community. For instance, the 41st Session of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Assembly focused on agenda item 31, which pertained to Higher Airspace Operations. Additionally, the 2023 session of the UN COPUOS Legal Subcommittee allocated agenda item 6(a) to discuss the definition and delimitation of outer space. The Space Law Committee of the International Law Association (ILA) has also incorporated suborbital flight into its agenda since 2016. 

This Workshop served as a platform for experts hailing from diverse backgrounds, including academia, industry, and international organizations within the fields of aviation and space. The participants engaged in discussions and shared their expertise regarding the existing regulatory landscape and potential future evolution. Over the course of the two-day Workshop, several panels were conducted, each focusing on different legal aspects of high altitude activities. 

The workshop commenced with introductory remarks by Professors Stephan Hobe and Irmgard Marboe.  

Participants included: 

  • Alexander Soucek, ESA 
  • Benjamyn I. Scott, University of Leiden 
  • Elmar Giemulla, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and TU Berlin  
  • Frans von der Dunk, University of Nebraska Lincoln 
  • Konstantinos I. Andritsos, University of Cologne 
  • Mahulena Hofmann, University of Luxembourg 
  • Marco Pedrazzi, University of Milan 
  • Markus Beham, University of Passau 
  • Natercia Rodriguez, UNOOSA 
  • Norbert Frischauf, Aerospace Expert and Consultant SIGMA-7 
  • Olavo Bittencourt Neto, Catholic University of Santos 
  • Otto Koudelka, TU Graz 
  • Rada Popova, Isar Aerospace 
  • Rafael Moro-Aguilar, Florida International University 
  • René Laufer, University of Technology 
  • Sara Dalledonne, ESPI 
  • Sergio Marchisio, University La Sapienza 
  • Setsuko Aoki, Keio University
  • Sigmar Stadlmeier, University of Linz 
  • Stephanie Stipsits, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Austria 
  • Steven Freeland, Western Sydney University and Bond University 
  • Tanja Masson-Zwaan, University of Leiden 
  • Wolf Müller-Rostin, Air Law Advisor 

The two-day Workshop featured seven panels, each addressing various aspects of the legal frameworks governing high altitude activities. The sessions focused alternatively on the definition of suborbital flights and high altitude activities, but also on authorization and supervision, registration, as well as the question of responsibility and liability. The Workshop also addressed the subjects of crew and passengers, and airports and spaceports. 

Each topic was addressed from an international and national air law and space law perspective. 

Finally, the Workshop concluded with a debate on the future of suborbital flights and their legal framework.  

Find a selection of photos from the Workshop below:

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