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News | March 7, 2023

Cooperation in Space: USSPACECOM Legal Conference explores implications in law and policy

By U.S. Navy Cmdr. Mark Rasmussen U.S. Space Command

U.S. Space Command’s Office of the Staff Judge Advocate and the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Law, Technology and Warfare Research Cell co-hosted USSPACECOM’s third annual Legal Conference Feb. 28 – Mar. 2, 2023, at the Academy’s Polaris Hall.
The three-day hybrid event hosted more than 450 participants to foster discussions related to the theme, Cooperation in Space. The conference covered a breadth of issues across all sectors of space, to include the U.S. military, U.S. government interagency partners, academia, the civilian and commercial sector, and U.S. partner nations. 
USSPACECOM commander U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson kicked off the conference by highlighting the fundamental importance of cooperation to achieving safe and reliable space operations, citing USSPACECOM’s continuing efforts to work with international partners, academia and commercial industry.
“Adherence to international legal obligations and respecting the rights of all space-faring nations is a critical element of maintaining a safe and predictable environment,” Dickinson said. “The expertise in international and domestic space law you provide will help us achieve that objective.”
Dickinson’s comments during the conference proved timely. At the end of the same week, USSPACECOM released the approved 2023 Tenet Derived Responsible Behaviors in Space memorandum, a document intended to further outline a level of transparency about U.S. military space activities designed to reduce the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation. Link to memorandum 
The conference featured two keynote presentations. The first, delivered by Dr. Laurie Blank, special counsel to the Department of Defense’s general counsel and Emory University law professor, focused on the complex international law issues raised by military operations in outer space.
The second, from Tom Ayres, general counsel for Voyager Space and former General Counsel of the Air Force, focused on historical examples of how developments in commercial industry have been integral to the success of military operations. Ayres then provided insight on how this partnership will continue to be particularly important with the rapid evolution of technology in the space domain. 
The unclassified portion of the conference also included several panel discussions on a range of legal topics including issues raised by commercial space activities providing support to Ukraine, international space cooperation, collective security, space situational awareness, and two forthcoming space law manuals. 
The final day of the conference was held at the classified level on Schriever Space Force Base, Colo., and opened with a threat briefing to frame a discussion on combined space operations, featuring a panel of military legal advisors from Combined Space Operations Center, the U.K. Space Command and Australian Defence Space Command.
A second presentation by the Space Training and Readiness Command judge advocates discussed legal and policy issues associated with testing, training and exercising in the space domain.
Finally, a panel composed of operational law attorneys from USSPACECOM, U.S. European Command, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, U.S. Cyber Command and U.S. Central Command provided insight on the unique legal and coordination issues raised by various space operations, using several real-world operations as case studies.
Col. Todd Pennington, USSPACECOM Staff Judge Advocate, provided concluding remarks highlighting the wide array of topics throughout the conference and the important role of the space legal community in achieving cooperation in space.