December 21, 2020. The International Institute of Space Law (IISL) held the 15th Annual Eilene Galloway Memorial Symposium on Critical Issues in Space Law on Wednesday, December 16, 2020, in an unprecedented online event format. This year’s program addressed the issues and challenges the space industry is facing because of the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic.
The opening keynote was delivered by Dr. Kai-Uwe Schrogl, president of IISL. Dr. Schrogl said that the space industry was struck by the pandemic, like any industrial activity, but with lesser impact as stakeholders tend to benefit from stable government-led programs and also took preventive actions to prevent Chapter-XI filings. This trend was also boosted by higher global demand for telecommunications services due to the pandemic. He noted, however, that small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups face potentially lasting financial trouble, which could lead to higher barriers to entry in the industry. Dr. Schrogl stressed the need for accurate regulation, especially in key areas such as intellectual property rights, and financing for ventures in science, technology, and medicine. In this way, international space law will be able to bring transparency and confidence, despite the troubled situation.
The Symposium included two sessions. The first panel, moderated by Joanne Gabrynowicz, Editor-in-Chief Emerita of the Journal of Space Law, addressed the impact of COVID-19 on the global space industry from an academic viewpoint. Guyou Wang, Professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, started the discussion by presenting past and ongoing space achievements in China. He reported that most tasks scheduled in their five-year plan will be completed on time, despite the COVID-19 crisis. Consequently, during the pandemic, China has developed its ability to enter, use, and explore outer space.
Fritz Merkle, a Life Director at the U.S. Space Foundation, spoke about the effects of the current crisis on daily work. He noted that although there were no major virus outbreaks in the German space environment, the preventative measures severely impacted productivity. In addition, most industry-related events have been postponed; most launches have been delayed as Kourou’s European Space Port is closed, and Ariane 6’s maiden flight has been shifted. Political decisions have also been delayed and the commercial space market has been affected. The economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the European space industry is estimated to be up to 1 billion euros. Nonetheless, some major decisions with long term impact had already been adopted in late 2019, when the European Space Agency (ESA) Council Meeting agreed on a 14.4 billion-euro funding package. Thus, ESA’s Galileo, Copernicus, and New Space industry programs remain funded and fully active. Such efforts are also maintained at national levels, thanks to the European Central Bank’s pandemic stimulus plan.
Gopal V. Krishnan, advisor at the Centre for Air & Space Law at Gujarat National Law University, presented the impacts of the current crisis on the Indian space industry, including those due to lockdowns and remote working. Launch rates have also been affected by the geographical distribution of work centers across the country, and by meteorological conditions. Mr. Krishnan announced the Indian Space Research Organization’s launch of a national portal for data and analysis called “BHUVAN.” More generally, he discussed the Indian space sector’s reforms designed to foster private initiatives and create a stronger ecosystem. Policies are thus being debated for space communications, remote sensing, and technology transfers.
During the second panel, moderated by Dennis Burnett, General Counsel of HawkEye 360, participants discussed the COVID-19 impact from private stakeholders’ point of view. Elina Morozova, head of international legal service at Intersputnik International, said that the Satcom industry has seen a growing demand for telecommunications services due to lockdowns and remote working & studying, but is suffering a decrease in income, mostly because governments maintain strict regulation of prices and customers’ purchasing power has declined. Ms. Morozova stressed the necessity for stakeholders to “keep an eye on each other.” She introduced the issue of Force Majeure clauses triggered by the ongoing pandemic. She also called for governmental support of the Satcom industry in these difficult times through temporary regulatory simplification and measures such as Russia’s automatic renewal and national stimulus package specifically targeting companies in the telecommunications sector.
For Shawn Cheadle, General Counsel Operations at Lockheed Martin Corporation, the challenge has been tracking the variety of health restrictions and orders across a large variety of jurisdictions. Efforts have been made to lobby public officials to amend legislation and to achieve a more comprehensive COVID-specific regulatory framework. Mr. Cheadle discussed supply chain management, as task forces were set up to deal with Force Majeure in a wide variety of jurisdictions as well as in commercial and governmental contracts, in order for the industrial process to stay on pace as much as possible. He also discussed safety for on-site employees, HR management, facilities sanitation, and how this crisis has highlighted the critical role of IT structures and connectivity.
Jessica Noble, General Counsel at Nanoracks, discussed the challenges of a smaller commercial company as one of NASA’s commercial contractors. Nanoracks faced shutdowns at the very moment of meeting critical milestones for launch. Ms. Noble emphasized positive negotiations with NASA in order to adjust milestones and keep working. The company was eventually able to keep employees safe and meet essential contract deadlines. Ms. Noble also discussed Force Majeure and the notion of specifically citing pandemics in Force Majeure clauses. She expressed concern at the trend to exclude COVID-19, as governments are still enforcing shutdowns and other measures that may cause unavoidable harm to businesses.
The Galloway Symposium is an annual event hosted in honor of Eilene M. Galloway, a pioneer in the fields of space law and policy. The 2020 IISL Galloway Symposium was organized by IISL Treasurer Dennis Burnett. LMI Advisors was a supporting sponsor. More information on the event can be found at https://iislweb.org/.