Journal of International Maritime Law. 2020, 26 (4), 267-290
Sea-based launches of satellites provide advantages for the space sector, such as flexibility ofthe launching location, but may also pose security and environmental concerns for states in theproximity of launches. States must properly exercise their competences under international lawto supervise space activities under their jurisdiction effectively. This article examines theapplication of UNCLOS for determining state jurisdiction and responsibilities with regard tosuch activities, arguing that UNCLOS provides a relevant but not fully adequate framework forlaunches from sea, and may even prevent responsible states from meeting their obligations underthe Outer Space Treaty. The flag state regime fills in some of the jurisdictional gaps in space law,but the traditional approach to flag state jurisdiction under UNCLOS may not satisfactorilymeet the objectives of space law. The duty of ‘due regard’ is, in practice, crucial for regulatingthe conduct of sea-launching states, but depends on inter-state dialogue and cooperationeffectively to resolve potential conflicting uses of the sea. Effectiveness of the internationalresponsibility regime laid down in the Outer Space Treaty may be weakened by unclear andunder-developed standards of conduct. Further, it is necessary to ensure that liability for damagecaused by space objects launched from the high seas is not ‘channelled’ to the flag state of thelaunch facility. Interpretation of UNCLOS in light of the international space law objectives maybe helpful to resolve some of these issues, but workable solutions for safe launches from seamay only be found in further cooperation between the states concerned.