We may no longer be sending astronauts to the moon, but there’s a lot going on in the Earth’s orbit.
The World-Herald’s Steve Liewer recently reported that some 14 nations now have satellites in orbit, as do some 40 international groups. The most recent count puts the number of operational satellites zooming about the heavens at nearly 1,100.
Meanwhile, our Air Force has the responsibility of tracking some 22,000 pieces of space debris. By 2030 the amount of satellites and space debris is expected to triple.
Those satellites are in orbit for a variety of uses. Fifty-nine percent are used for communication. The rest are divided into smaller shares for navigation, weather monitoring, military surveillance and astronomical/space science needs.
The United States currently has 459 satellites zipping around the planet. Of those, 211 are commercial/civil, 131 military and 117 government.
Add it all up, and there’s a lot not only to keep track of but also to regulate and manage. Crafting satellite law and policy requires detailed expertise. Negotiations on satellite issues are complex, and in many cases they require international agreement.
In short, there’s a need for experts who understand space law. And that need is growing.
Wouldn’t it be good to have a university that offers special training in space law — a university that builds a team of faculty experts with an eye toward creating the nation’s leading law program on space issues?
To its credit, the University of Nebraska College of Law is pursuing that course, focusing on civilian as well as military issues.
The university has been one of the few schools in the country to have a Master of Laws degree in space, cyber and telecommunications law. Now, as The World-Herald’s Lizzie Johnson reports, it will be the only law school in the country to offer both a master’s degree and a doctorate in space law.
The NU program looks in detail at the legal and regulatory issues involving commercial satellites. The curriculum also has relevance for the military.
The U.S. Strategic Command, after all, has major responsibilities for monitoring satellite movements. StratCom has signed agreements with 37 private entities and two countries (Japan and Australia) to exchange information so that the movement of space material can be tracked.
NU’s space-law initiative has its roots in a discussion in the mid-2000s in which Gen. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright, the StratCom commander at the time, talked to NU President J.B. Milliken about the growing significance of space law and its potential as a focus for academic involvement.
Cyber issues — another part of the NU law school’s program — are also of growing significance for StratCom.
This isn’t the only connection linking NU and StratCom. NU is partnering with the military command as one of only 14 universities nationwide hosting what’s called a University-Affiliated Research Center — academic centers that tackle military-specific research needs.
By focusing on the growing area of space law, NU is showing commendable forward thinking. It’s encouraging to see the university reaching for the stars.