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Russian space agency’s threat on International Space Station

  • IAS NEXT, Lucknow
  • 01, Mar 2022
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Amid the ongoing war, the Russian space agency has threatened that Russia could respond to the US sanctions by letting the ISS fall from space.

How is the Space Station protected from such acts?

It is governed by the International Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement.

It was signed on 29 January 1998 by the fifteen governments involved in the Space Station project.

  • It establishes ‘a long term international co-operative frame-work on the basis of genuine partnership, for the detailed design, development, operation, and utilisation of a permanently inhabited civil Space Station for peaceful purposes.

Who owns the International Space Station?

The Intergovernmental Agreement allows the Space Station Partners States to extend their national jurisdiction in outer space, so the elements they provide (e.g. laboratories) are assimilated to the territories of the Partners States.

  • The basic rule is that ‘each partner shall retain jurisdiction and control over the elements it registers and over personnel in or on the Space Station who are its nationals’ (Article 5 of the Intergovernmental Agreement).

This means that the owners of the Space Station – the United States, Russia, the European Partner, Japan and Canada – are legally responsible for the respective elements they provide.

Who is liable in case something goes wrong?

The International Space Station legal framework recognises fundamental liability rules concerning space activities, set forth in international space law treaties, such as the Liability Convention (1972), and it goes even further.

  • The Intergovernmental Agreement establish a ‘cross-waiver of liability’ which prohibits any of the five Partners or their related entities (contractor, sub-contractor, user, customer) to claim against another Partner (or its related entities) for damage sustained as a result of International Space Station activities (Article 16 of the Intergovernmental Agreement).
  • Each Partner is required to implement this obligation in the contracts with its own contractors and sub-contractors.

Other international Space Law Treaties and Principles in this regard:

The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space is the forum for the development of international space law.

The Committee has concluded five international treaties and five sets of principles on space-related activities. These include:

  1. The “Outer Space Treaty”.
  2. The “Rescue Agreement”.
  3. The “Liability Convention”.
  4. The “Registration Convention”.
  5. The “Moon Agreement”.

The five declarations and legal principles are:

  1. The “Declaration of Legal Principles”.
  2. The “Broadcasting Principles”.
  3. The “Remote Sensing Principles”.
  4. The “Nuclear Power Sources” Principles.
  5. The “Benefits Declaration”.

Other space stations:

  • The only space station currently in orbit is the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is backed by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada.
  • So far, China has sent two previous space stations into orbit- the Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 were trial stations.


  • Space stations are essential for collecting meaningful scientific data, especially for biological experiments.
  • Provide platforms for greater number and length of scientific studies than available on other space vehicles.
  • Each crew member stays aboard the station for weeks or months, but rarely more than a year.
  • Space stations are used to study the effects of long-term space flight on the human body.