GUARANTEED ACCESS TO SPACE:
Alain Conde Reis
ESA - 2200 AG Noordwijk ZH - The
Netherlands - EU
EXTENSION TO COUNTRIES WITHOUT LAUNCHER?
This article is based on the authors private research and is not
connected with his duties at the European Space Agency (ESA)
. Copyright©2004 by Alain Conde Reis. Published by the
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astonautics, Inc.,
Space fairing nations have always been looking after a guaranty for
access to space, in an independent or sovereign way, initially motivated by prestige,
military and science interests. This is also verified now for the new countries joining
the space arena. But without owning their launcher they cannot really profit from freedom
of access to space as guaranteed to all States by the Outer Space treaty. In this context,
this paper addresses two main questions: Could a space emerging nation that does
not possess a launcher consider itself as having a guaranteed access to space, by means of
an Intergovernmental Agreement? And what could be the motivations of a space fairing
nation in having such agreement?
The title of this article is somehow provocative in asking how
countries without having their own developed launcher could profit in a sovereign way from
the free access to space given by the Outer Space Treaty (13). The geopolitical world scene seems to evolve towards increased cooperation
among states, while the space launchers developments slowly quits the domain of
national sovereignty and prestige to evolve towards a serviceoriented approach, shared
today between public and private investments and operations (14).
This article can be seen as the first of a series, trying to initiate a
wide discussion on this subject, later reporting on the progresses made in understanding
all elements of it and hopefully one day drafting an agreement proposal.
Outer Space Conquest and First Treaties
At the time the Outer Space treaties were discussed, space activities
were mainly concentrated in only two nations. In the facts the treaties involved much more
nations, and one point of view is to say that the other nations, while not expecting any
space activity or launcher developments in a close future, they were interested in
safeguarding their access to space for the future(37) and also restricting weaponisation.
Therefore, from the point of view of the space access, the Outer Space
Treaties requested the two spaceracing nations to share their newly conquered space while
not sharing the transport means. This seamed to have been acceptable to all parties,
safeguarding their present and future interests.
Securing Access to Space
The Outer Space treaty gives a guaranteed freedom of access to
space to all States, that they cannot really profit without owning their launcher.
The space fairing nations, those from the spacerace and those emerging
later, have always been looking after a guaranty for access to space, in an independent or
sovereign way: their space developments were initially motivated by prestige, military and
science interests and a secured access to space was then seen as a key element (15).
Even today, some of the countries showing an increasing role in space
applications and substantially investing in space developments seems to find a need for
developing a launcher (34), despite the huge
cost and risk when compared to the very low economic and application return, at least
Certainly some countries find (or found) a synergy with their military
developments of missiles (29), but this cannot
be the only justification of these highly risked investments when compared with the return
of a similar investment in space focused for example on science, telecommunication or
environmental satellites (16) (17)(30)(31).
Therefore one can say that for "space emerging nations",
owning a guaranteed access to space is seen as a necessary condition to be recognised
among the "space fairing nations", possibly expecting to become one of them
Some exceptions exist, however, and possibly the main exceptions are
the EU States that do share a common launcher,
not all participating to its development, but all having a guaranteed access to it through
the ESA convention they agreed on (38)(18).
Towards Commercial Launches
Interesting to note the evolution of the launcher sector, going towards
a increased role given to commercial (private) interests
For former space fairing nations like US, Russia and European
countries, the space access slowly becomes more seen as an important economic asset rather
than only national prestige, encouraging the launchers industry to look towards other
sources of funding than public space agencies, on which they still strongly depend (15)(10)(12) (22)(23)(27)(32).
This may open the door to some types of cooperation in this sensitive
For example the private company that exploited Spacehab as a carrier
for payloads and selling space commercially did not own the launcher itself (Shuttle).
Therefore cooperating with a country on its institutional launcher could include
carrier-like services to be offered commercially as services or design of specific
adapters while not owning the launcher itself.
A parallel situation can be found in the aviation industry, that has
roughly fifty years advance over space transportation: cooperation is made possible in
technology developments or transport services, driven by economic interests rather than
national prestige. Obviously, the economical activity involving a given plane is not
limited to the state owning the development and manufacturing of the plane itself.
SECURING ACCESS TO SPACE FOR
SPACE EMERGING NATIONS
Other Means of Securing Access to Space, without a Launcher
What are the other means to secure access to space without owning a
One shall recognise that most States are free to buy a launch for their
satellite, but this is a market-oriented approach and certainly cannot be considered as a
States guaranteed access to space in a sovereign level.
Under certain limits, it is even possible today to buy a complete
launcher from an old proven generation like the Russian launchers. This is considered as a
valid option at private commercial level as well as state level, like some European
The only viable and large-scale option seems therefore to consider
bilateral or multilateral agreements guarantying access to space under practical
conditions and with a long term commitment and for peaceful purposes.
Why an IGA?
An Intergovernmental Agreement guarantying access to launches on a
non-discriminatory basis and on reasonable costs terms could help securing States
access to space, while also providing a source of income for the launcher industry.
It could be enough to avoid, at least in a first phase, the costly and
risky development of a launcher for that space emerging nation.
This IGA should be seen in the point of view of the cooperation, for
exclusively peaceful purposes, fostering participation on space related developments with
a faster visible return, like disaster management or telecommunications, and possibly
extending later onto the participation to larger projects involving international
cooperation and, why not, involving next-generation launchers.
The suggested access at "non-discriminatory basis and on
reasonable costs terms", for exclusively peaceful purposes, is given here as a
reference to the United Nation Resolution on Remote Sensing (13) that somehow can be seen as having similar point of view in the sense that giving
access to space (data) on a cooperative basis rather than protecting technological advance
can be fruitful for both parties (16)(30).
Prestige versus Development of a Launcher?
However, for at least some countries, the question will remain as if a
State that does not possess a launcher can consider itself as having a guaranteed access
to space, by means of this IGA, and whether this will be enough in the prestige or
sovereignty point of view?
In a first answer, it seems that such IGA is not considered enough by
big countries like China and India, because of the military dual-use of the launcher
technology, and maybe also because the prestige of access to space is still important for
them in affirming their growing role in the world. However, for some others, certainly
such agreement would be an important incentive to start a long-term participation in
national and international space developments.
EXISTING LAUNCHER AGREEMENTS(1)
ESA Ariane series
The Ariane series launchers developed under a programme of the European
Space Agency (ESA) are ruled by some
agreements between European countries sharing the development and qualification of the
launcher and by the ESA convention itself (38)(36), giving de facto a guaranteed access to space to all EC states and even
those not directly involved in developing the launcher
TSA (Technology Safeguard Agreements). Some TSA agreements were signed
up to now to secure the access to a launcher while safeguarding interests of the state
contracting a launch (6)(7)(8)(2)(3)(4).
These agreements are concerned mainly to US securing alternatives for
launches and not for countries without launcher. However, they are a good basis on how to
safeguard the interests of both parties (33).
An exception seems to be the TSA agreement (not ratified) proposed with
Brazil(6), not to exploit their launcher under
development but to create a launch pad in Alcantara under US control. Eventually this
proposed agreement was not seen as equilized cooperation.
Mutual Launcher Backup
A few references are found about so-called Backup agreements between
launchers owners, some considering commercial launches (23)(21) and probably some considering institutional launches (9).
Although these agreements, signed or only under discussion, concern
countries or organisations having a launcher, they are interesting in the sense that they
show a possible cooperation between competitors, obviously under well defined commercial
Other signed Bilateral Agreements (1)
Some other agreements between states exist, like those securing the
exploitation of old generation Russian launchers that are still a valuable commercial
asset (4). However these agreements consist
essentially in buying a launcher and seems to concern private companies in developed
countries having most of them already an access to space (21)(3), therefore not contributing in securing access to space to space emerging
nations without a launcher.
MOTIVATIONS FOR SHARING ITS ACCESS TO SPACE
WITH SPACE EMERGING NATIONS
Possible Interest of Launchers Owners
Would countries be ready to "share" their access to space,
considering the potential income, or for other reasons?
It is very unlikely that the potential income originating from such IGA
guarantying access to space at reasonable conditions is high enough to justify by itself
the interest of a space fairing nation in signing such agreement. But the income being at
least not zero, this should not avoid such agreement on being considered.
Other reasons are certainly to be found on the more global point of
view of the benefits from peaceful international cooperation on hightechnological space
The on-going (slow) tendency on privatisation of the exploitation, if
not the development, of launchers(18) should
also be a favourable element for reaching such agreement as being a way to establish a
long-term confidence relation with potential future users of launch services (9)(20).
Interesting to note that today even countries like US or European
countries does use "lowcost" launchers from foreign countries like India, thus
minimising the relative importance of or support to their sovereign launcher for pure
Limits of Cooperation on Launcher Technology
Apart from commercial considerations, the cooperation in space
technology and launchers in particular remains a difficult area due to the dual use nature
of the launchers and security oriented agreements controlling the exportations or limiting
An agreement on guaranteed access to a launcher will certainly
reinforce possible cooperation on space projects, however can the launcher development
itself be the object of a cooperation? (10)(11)
Such agreement possibly fits the context of international cooperation
"on an equitable and mutually acceptable basis" as encouraged by the United
Up to recently, launchers technology were considered as highly
sensitive and this does go in parallel with the consideration that a launcher is an object
of national prestige and sovereignty, with military implications.
However, the tendency towards launches as private services may open the
way for a possible cooperation in a few years, considering also that a launch involves
many annex technology domains less "sensitive" including ground stations,
The same happens with the aeronautics developments: while a plane has
certainly a military dualuse nature, it is involved in many forms of cooperation, both at
development and transport service levels.
This paper addressed two main questions related to the freedom of
access to Outer Space: Could a Space Emerging
Nation that does not possess a launcher consider itself as having a guaranteed access
to space, by means of an Intergovernmental Agreement? And what could be the motivations of
a space fairing nation in having such agreement?
This subject is wide and linked to many different areas, and this paper
tried to introduce each of them. They certainly deserve a deeper analysis on a follow-up
work, before an agreement could be considered.
Some recommendations can be highlighted from this paper:
- cooperation in the field of space transportation in view of
guarantying access to Outer Space can be interesting for both parties even without
involving, at least initially, substantial exchange of funds;
- cooperation in launchers technology will be soon possible, as the
launchers move towards commercial exploitation, like airplanes, and some forms of
cooperation are less sensitive like ground support and transport services;
- the United Nations are a good framework for such cooperation in an
equitable way, for both space fairing and space emerging nations
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