On 22 April 2024, Peter Neenan, Sarah Stewart and Gemma Laing from our Aviation team attended a specialist space law event entitled, ‘Navigating by the Stars – Space Law Leaders on the Legal Challenges of Tomorrow’. The event was organised by the Air Law Group of the Royal Aeronautical Society, of which Peter Neenan is currently Chair; and hosted by Stephenson Harwood at their offices.

The conference brought together leading specialists from operational, insurance, regulatory, and legal disciplines in the space sector. Peter provides an overview of the key points discussed in this article.


Panel discussions

The first panel comprised:


  • Sarah Banco, Senior Director at Space X
  • Vini Aloia, Head of Legal and Regulatory Affairs at Astroscale
  • Mitch Hunter-Scullion, CEO and Founder of the Asteroid Mining Company
  • Samantha Law, Senior Lawyer in the International Team for the Department for Transport Legal Advisers
  • Akiko Hama, Client Executive, Space and Aerospace at Global Aerospace.

Under the wise moderation of Gabriella Mifsud of Clyde & Co, the panel spoke about the challenges facing the industry from an operational standpoint, with observations on the UK’s current success in producing a robust regulatory structure, balanced with caution on the need to continually adapt to ensure that the spirit of innovation was not stymied together with lessons from the US model.

The panel went on to discuss challenges and desires with respect to licensing, the next frontiers for space exploration and the balancing act of licensing while not stifling those developments. We heard interesting commentary on how insurers are embracing and adapting to new technology while hearing the panellists discuss familiar aviation concepts underpinning the ethos to that development. These included risks being As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP), failing safely and the perception of failure with respect to development and testing of new space technology. Finally we learnt about the importance of international cooperation on the subject of licensing, including with respect to responsibility, redundancy and the avoidance of duplication in the licensing process.

The second panel switched the focus from an operational to a regulatory, legal and insurance viewpoint. The panel comprised:

  • Darcy Beamer-Downie, Head of Space at Clyde & Co
  • Denis Bensoussan, Head of Space at Beazley
  • Paul Cremin MBE, Head of Spaceflight for the Department for Transport
  • Jerry Flaxman, Director of Flaxman Partners

Ably moderated by Patrick Bettle, Managing Associate of Stephenson Harwood, the panel cautioned the magnitude of the changed landscape that had arisen with commercial ventures in space, and discussed the need to revisit the liability framework.

I was particularly interested by comments on the challenges of litigation pursuant to treaties governing outer space activities, something which I remember concluding myself when I studied them on my LLM at Leiden some 15 years ago. The panel held a fascinating discourse on the understanding of acceptable risk and the need for diversity and volume in the types of space ventures, to enable insurance to help foster development of the space industry. Finally we learnt about improvements at an operator level with respect to the presentation and viability of business models and associated risks.



As Chair of the Air Law Group, I had the privilege of providing the closing remarks to the conference. I observed that the operative words of innovation and revolution captured the spirit of the first and second panels respectively. I noted the speed of innovation and scale of the revolution described by the panellists, reflecting on the need for all stakeholders within the space sector to collaborate and engage with each other. Finally I encouraged listening to other stakeholders and reflection on how to improve themselves.

It is hoped that this will be the first of many conferences on the fascinating subject of space law, as commercialisation and innovation in the space industry continue at breathtaking pace and the UK government seeks to harness that potential to become a leading destination for investment and growth in this nascent industry.



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