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April 11th, 2021

Rescue Agreement Space

The obligation to immediately return the astronauts to the launch authority is different from the obligation to rescue and independent the place where they landed. In the context of the Cold War, there were concerns that astronauts would be arrested on criminal charges (Dembling – Arons 1966, p. 339). The Soviet Union argued that astronauts could be involved in aggressive military activities or espionage. In addition, space vehicles carrying information-gathering equipment on the territory of another state should not be returned. According to the Soviet Union, foreign space vehicles should only be returned immediately if they are on track and have been officially announced. This situation was then amended on the condition that the space object was launched for peaceful exploration and exploitation of space or that it was launched in accordance with the Declaration of Legal Principles (Dembling – Arons 1968, p. 652; Houben, 1968, 128). However, these conditions were not acceptable to the United States and other states. In the absence of mandatory dispute resolution mechanisms, doubts about compliance with the conditions in practice could be determined unilaterally by the state for which return was mandatory. Finally, the obligation to return astronauts and space objects remained unconditional, as provided for by the Declaration of Law and the OST.

After ARRA came into force, many states reported to the UN Secretary-General the rescue of space objects. The total number of items recovered in the first 50 years was approximately 140 (Hedman, 2018, p. 8). In the case of Saudi Arabia, this occurred when saudi Arabia was not a party to ARRA (Hodgkins, 2003, p. 66; de Dunk, 2008, p. 431). If a state has not ratified the ARRA, the appropriate legal basis would be Article VIII of the OST, which requires the return of a space object to the registration state. In 2018, Peru was the last state to report the recovery of space objects on its territory, which corresponds to five different objects in four different locations (Hedman, 2018, p. 8).

A list of recovered items and their notification information can be found on a website of the United Nations Office for Space Affairs. In December 1967, after 15 bilateral meetings between representatives of the United States and the Soviet Union, the LSC was convened for a special session. The draft text was forwarded to UNCOPUOS, which approved it after some amendments (Dembling – Arons, 1968, p. 640; Houben, 1968, 121; Kopal, 2011, 113). It is unusual that the text was not submitted to the first committee, which generally deals with the texts on disarmament and international security, which were normally imputed on space issues but which were presented directly to the UN General Report.

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