Aussie law school boldly heads for space – but in wake of Sunderland trailblazers

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By Judge John Hack on

University of Adelaide today takes its specialist module to the launch pad warning of fears that it’s not that lonely in space after all

Space Law

Space used to be the final frontier — but now even law schools are boldly going into the cold black depths of the galaxy.

The latest is the University of Adelaide in South Australia, which today followed the unlikely trailblazer of Sunderland University’s law school into a world of zero gravity populated by chaps with pointy ears.

The Aussies have launched strategic space law, which they describe as being an “intensive” post-graduate course that will “bring the legal profession up to speed” with all things Wookiee related.

Warp speed

But Adelaide Uni is about five years behind in the law school space race, as in 2010 England’s own Sunderland University went to the launch pad and shot off a space law element to its law degree.

Undeterred by that head start — which, if one were travelling at warp speed would provide Sunderland with a very long lead over its rivals — the Australians are talking big.

“The commercialisation of space activity is a pressing issue,” explained Adelaide law school’s Professor Melissa de Zwart. “As new players … come in to the space technology field, that’s a really exciting opportunity because of the new ideas and new technologies, but it creates problems too, because people have to learn how to operate in that zone.”

Fellow Adelaide law school professor Dale Stephens also highlighted the weaponising of space.

“Military uses of space are expanding,” he explained, “especially in the context of weapons capability and satellite use. This is a largely unregulated area and there exist real conceptual and practical questions about how laws designed to regulate military operations on earth can apply in space.”

Crowded exosphere

The Australians are currently working with a consortium of universities in Canada and the US on the legal ramifications of space.

Another issue, according to the space-suited academics, is that it has become much easier for anyone with a rocket to launch stuff beyond the exosphere, which any boffin know is just about the last atmospheric layer above earth.

“Space is becoming more crowded,” said de Zwart, “and we have to start regulating it because there’s going to be more space junk and less orbit to operate in.”

Indeed, many lawyers would be keen to launch the current watchdogs — the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Bar Standards Board — as far into space as Richard Branson could take them.