The Impact of Large-Scale Satellite Constellations on Earth-Based Astronomy as a Problem of International Law

7 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2020

See all articles by Stefan Kirchner

Stefan Kirchner

University of Lapland, Arctic Centre

Date Written: January 12, 2020


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For untold generations, the view of the starry night sky has sparked the human imagination, but already today, the experience of a clear night sky full of stars is restricted to rural and remote areas with little light pollution and children growing up in urban areas today might not be aware of the wonders of the night sky. Light pollution as a problem has often been considered a regional issue and a necessary byproduct of urbanization and economic and technological development. In recent months, though, a new threat has emerged, which already affects ground-based astronomy. Large-scale satellite constellations threaten to make ground-based astronomy difficult, especially the search for moving objects such as small near-Earth objects. Currently, space activities are a growing concern for the Arctic academic community and large-scale satellite constellations can also affect scientific research in the Nordic region. It is argued by some that the disturbance might only be temporary, but this appears to be far from clear and the question nevertheless requires a clear solution. The currently prevailing legal opinion appears to be that there is very little in international space law which might prevent private actors from launching a large number of satellites in low earth orbits, despite the impact it has on astronomy, and that space-based observatories are the future. n this presentation the problem of decreased observability of the night sky is discussed from the perspective of international law, in particular international space law and the right to conduct scientific research with the aim of reconciling the interests of New Space enterprises with the interest of future generations to be able to see the stars.

Keywords: New Space, Astronomy, Satellites, Space Law, Science

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Kirchner, Stefan, The Impact of Large-Scale Satellite Constellations on Earth-Based Astronomy as a Problem of International Law (January 12, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Stefan Kirchner (Contact Author)

University of Lapland, Arctic Centre ( email )

P.O. Box 122
Rovaniemi, Lapland 96101
+358404844001 (Phone)


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