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Unpacking the NASRDA 2015 regulation on licensing and supervision of space activities

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Introduction

The recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the United States firm, Space Exploration and Research Agency (SERA), to send the first Nigerian astronaut into space has once again highlighted the significance of space exploration. Conquering the challenges of operating in space has spurred numerous technological and scientific breakthroughs, yielding substantial benefits for society on Earth across various sectors, including health and medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, energy and environment, information technology, and industrial productivity.

As the global space race intensifies with an increasing number of nations and private entities striving to establish their presence in outer space, Nigeria has developed a comprehensive regulatory framework – The 2015 Regulations on Licensing and Supervision of Space Activities. The regulation was enacted in 2015 and activated by the Buhari administration in 2021. This framework aims to ensure that Nigeria’s emerging space activities are conducted safely, responsibly, and in accordance with international standards. This article unpacks key provisions of the 2015 NASRDA Regulations on Licensing and Supervision of Space Activities.

Read also: NASRDA boss tasks committee on knowledge in field of space law

Comprehensive licensing requirements

The backbone of the 2015 NASRDA Regulations on Licensing and Supervision of Space Activities is Section 4(1), which mandates that no one “shall carry out activities to which the Regulations apply except under the authority of a license granted by the National Space Council.” This sweeping requirement covers a broad range of entities including “Corporations registered in Nigeria with ownership of space object(s)” and “Operators and manufacturers of space object(s) and launch vehicles within Nigerian territory” as outlined in Section 1. The regulation has a far-reaching effect as it covers all space activities carried out in Nigeria or on a Nigerian aircraft or boat. This means activities like satellite launches, satellite operation, remote sensing, space tourism, space debris removal, and spaceflight operations now compulsorily require a license from the Nigerian Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA).

The process of securing a license is far from a rubber-stamp process. Section 6(1) outlines comprehensive criterias that must be satisfied, ranging from “Proof of financial capability” and “Proof of reliable and requisite technical knowledge” to ensuring “the space activity mitigates space debris” and “complies with International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Regulation with regard to frequency allocation and orbital position.”

License conditions imposed under Section 7 can be extensive, mandating everything from “preventing the contamination of outer space or adverse changes in the environment of the Earth” to “requiring the licensee to insure himself/itself against liability.” The financial bar is also set high, with Section 6(1)(j) imposing “a flat sum of $2,000,000 (Two Million United States Dollars) for space activities license.”

Beyond a blanket space activity license, Sections 12-19 mandate a multi-tiered process requiring separate permits to be secured for launch facilities/spaceports, use of approved launch vehicles and flight paths, for each individual launch or series of launches.

Rigorous monitoring and enforcement of licensing conditions

While the extensive licensing requirements aim to ensure proposed space missions are comprehensively vetted on paper, Sections 37-38 establish robust mechanisms for monitoring real-world activities and enforcing compliance with license conditions and overall space laws.

Section 37(1) empowers the National Space Council to give any license holder directions “as it appears appropriate to secure compliance with the international obligations of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or with the conditions of the license.” Section 38 allows for judicial warrants to “authorize a named person acting on behalf of the National Space Council to do anything necessary to secure compliance” if access is denied.

Section 43 puts teeth into enforcement by enabling civil penalties for operating without a license or breaching conditions, with fines “not less than 15% of the total value of the project” for corporate entities. Section 43(2) imposes even more severe criminal penalties for intentional offenses, with individual fines “not less than 5% of the total value of the project.” The conditions for compliance are relatively onerous, and the penalties for non-compliance are significantly punitive, reflecting the seriousness with which Nigeria is approaching the space sector.

Alignment with international treaties

A key driver behind Nigeria’s new regulatory framework is ensuring the nation’s space activities uphold the key UN space treaties it has ratified. The regulations frequently reference these obligations, such as:

● Section 9 requires space activities to “not cause environmental damage to the Earth or outer space” in accordance with the Liability Convention.

● Section 10 mandates the mitigation of orbital debris “in accordance with international space debris mitigation standards”.

● Section 11 establishes a national registry of space objects to be shared with the UN as per the Registration Convention.

● Section 39 requires minimum third-party liability insurance of $15 million as per the Liability Convention.

Enabling the domestic space sector

While the overtones of Nigeria’s regulatory framework undeniably prioritize strict oversight, NASRDA officials insist this is not designed to be a punitive system. They point to provisions like Section 4(2) exempting certain private activities from licensing and Section 39(2) waiving some insurance requirements as proof they have tried to balance national interests with enabling a thriving domestic space industry.

The 2015 NASRDA regulations substantially benefit Nigeria’s economy, technological development, and international standing. By establishing a clear and robust framework for space activities, Nigeria can attract significant foreign investment and foster public-private partnerships essential for economic growth. These regulations also encourage the development of advanced technologies and skills within the country, leading to innovation and a highly skilled workforce. Internationally, Nigeria’s commitment to adhering to global standards enhances its reputation as a responsible spacefaring nation, paving the way for collaboration with other countries and international organizations. Additionally, the burgeoning domestic space sector can create numerous opportunities for startups and established companies alike, driving job creation and positioning Nigeria as a leader in Africa’s space endeavors.

Conclusion

As Nigeria aspires to join the prestigious lineup of rising space faring countries, the 2015 Regulations on Licensing and Supervision of Space Activities signal the nation’s determination to achieve its ambitious space goals by upholding the loftiest international standards. Like the United States, which has long been ahead in enacting and implementing comprehensive space regulations through entities like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Nigeria is now positioning itself as a crucial player in global space governance. By enforcing a strict yet enabling framework, Nigeria not only ensures the safety and sustainability of its space activities but also creates a terrain ripe for innovation and profitable growth. This new foundation sets the stage for Nigeria to reach for the stars, mirroring the scrupulous approach seen in established spacefaring nations while addressing the unique opportunities and challenges within the African environment.

Okeke, Associate Partner & Head, Public Sector Practice Group OIisa Agbakoba Legal, writes from Apapa, Lagos.