2019.B.4.4. Reform & Re-Evaluation of Planetary Protection Policy in the Contemporary Era of Interplanetary CubeSat Utilisation and Development


Sam Arne Whalley (1)

  1. Malmö University, Sweden




Law, Policy, Planetary Protection


As a result of the recent exponential development in CubeSat technology and application, both state and non-state entities alike are now reaching far beyond the capabilities, and arguably, the furthest-expectations of the previous generation of space actors. However, the absence of suitable contemporary planetary protection policy has meant that the legal landscape has failed to remain abreast with this burgeoning industry; and with CubeSats being at the forefront of new ‘complex science missions’, an immediate re-assessment of Planetary Protection Policy is required as to ensure the unchallenged consistent growth and development of the CubeSat industry. This development should come without limitations presented by legislation with little applicability to the new era of space exploration.

The exponential growth of the number of objects launched into space by various new entities means that a wide-array of legal questions will gain a new urgency. With such a multitude of widely differentiating space craft (with differing characteristics, destinations, and purposes), without an up-to-date legal framework, there is a high-risk of restricting potentially beneficial/ progressive space-activities, if handled in an appropriate manner, – as well as the high risk of damage to space environments through unregulated activities.

The last substantial legal provisions in the field of planetary protection were codified in the ‘Outer Space Treaty’ (1967), however, through conceptual developments in recent planetary protection reports (2018), alongside an ever-evolving legal climate surrounding planetary protection, it is fair to assume that we are in the early stages of widespread policy and legal reform.

In my research presentation I will first demonstrate the challenges presented by current planetary protection policy in relation to Interplanetary CubeSat development. Then I shall introduce the different potential outcomes of contemporary planetary protection reform, and the implications that these varying outcomes could have upon the future development and utilization of Interplanetary CubeSats.


  • Download slides in PDF format here (<4 MB)

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