Consider the situation, where the private company (let's say, registered on some Caribbean country, but owned by the citizen of United States) does the unauthorized launch of satellite or other spacecraft from territory, for example, Kazakhstan.

The satellite falls on the territory of, say, some EU country (Germany for example) causing significant damage to the property of private company registered there.

What could be the most severe consequences, according to current state of space law? According to which law could the owner of the launching company be processed? Are there possible repercussions that the suffering country could issue against other country (those from where the spacecraft was launched, those where the company is registered or those where the owner of the launching company has citizenship)?

  • $\begingroup$ Some Caribbean country? Like Trinidad and Tobago :D $\endgroup$
    – user39
    Jul 19, 2013 at 8:21
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Global thermonuclear war? $\endgroup$
    – Adam Wuerl
    Oct 13, 2013 at 0:05

2 Answers 2


First of all, let me give you what the typical requirements are for a launch, so we can compare them to your hypothetical situation. Managing a launch requires keeping an eye on where your rocket will be at any time, and what would happen to it if it exploded. Most launch facilities impose "Range Safety" requirements which must be demonstrated prior to launch, which minimize the damage that would be caused in the event of an incident. This has resulted in several rockets being blown up prematurely.

From this NASA website, if a spacecraft deviates more than 3 sigma away from it's desired course, it is deemed a malfunctioning rocket, and subject to self destruction. Of course, if it has obtained orbit, it will not be subject to this requirement. The flight path is determined such that this will not happen over any major city. All of this work is done to reduce the likelihood of an incident.

If you do not do this level of calculation, then you are subject to liability. If you launched from an island on the Pacific that was unclaimed, and an issue resulted, I'm sure that the lawyers could find a way to sue you, and would.

But you do not need to apply for an international permit to launch. Take North Korea, which has had several launches in spite of strong international opposition to their launches. However, if they did actual damage to people as a result, they would be dealt with in an even stronger manner than they had previously been.


The worst-case scenario includes tripping off early warning sensors of some nation (like the Norwegians did in 1995) and starting an unfortunate chain of events.

World War III is pretty heavy on unwanted consequences, legal or not. I seriously doubt the survivors can be benevolent to those who launched the satellite.

  • 12
    $\begingroup$ A minor point--the Norwegian launch was handled properly. It's the Russians that lost the launch notification. $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2013 at 22:58

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