Issue 13 2023

Spaceports on Coastal Areas and Spaceflights: Legal Considerations on the Protection of Marine Environment

by Anne-Sophie MARTIN

Spaceports located on coastal areas can have adverse consequences for the marine environment including acoustic disturbance (e.g. underwater noise) from launch, as well as flight paths passing over these areas affecting marine biodiversity, toxic contaminants and thermal effects from any discharges arising from these activities. Spaceport activities can also affect the displacement of animals and seabirds, as well as alter the seascape through coastal changes.
The protection of the marine environment from launch and spaceflight activities represents an unaddressed issue in the law of space activities and the law of the sea. The paper therefore aims to analyse the space legal regime and the instruments of soft law, such as the 2019 Long-term Sustainability Guidelines, which might be of relevance for safeguarding the marine environment.
Then, the paper considers the 1972 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, which constitutes the first global convention to protect the marine environment from human activities. The paper also focuses on the 1997 London Protocol which further develops and updates the Convention. The objective of these two legal instruments is to promote the effective control of all sources of marine pollution. Indeed, contracting parties shall take effective measures to prevent pollution of the marine environment caused by dumping at sea.
Furthermore, the paper deals with the policy and strategy adopted at national level considering environment and biodiversity preservation, in the specific case of spaceports located on coastal areas such as (i) the United Kingdom (Cornwall, England), (ii) Norway (Andoya), (iii) France (Kourou in French Guyana), (iv) New Zealand (Mahia Launch Complex located close to Ahuriri Point) and (v) John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida (USA). States and regulators should consider the implementation of “marine environmental impact assessment” and foresee the adverse effects of spaceflight activities on the coastal environment, as well as including proposals to mitigate these impacts. The paper argues that these elements should be included in the authorizations and licenses that states provide for national activities (Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty).

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