Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - International Dispute Resolution

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Faculty of Law | International Dispute Resolution | Dr. Jan Frohloff on "Arbitration in Space Disputes"

Dr. Jan Frohloff on "Arbitration in Space Disputes"

On the 14th of December 2023, Dr. Jan Frohloff, LL.M., delivered a lecture on Arbitration in Space Disputes as part of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin’s International Dispute Resolution LL.M. course in Specific Areas of Arbitration. 


Dr. Frohloff is a Counsel at SRP Schmitt Reichert Partners, where he advises and represents clients in disputes in the space industry, among others. He is a member of the board of the Space Arbitration Association and the editor-in-chief of its blog.


In a lively and interactive session, Dr. Frohloff began the discussion by showing an image from Star Wars where spaceships were engaged in battle. He  asked, “Who among you think of this image when you think of space disputes?” Several science-fiction-loving LL.M. students raised their hands, but to everyone’s dismay, Dr. Frohloff explained that the image does not represent the current state of space disputes. To characterize the current nature of space disputes, he showed actual events, such as debris falling into space after a collision of satellites and the well-known SpaceX mission. 


Dr. Frohloff explained that multiple treaties between states govern the regime of space disputes. These treaties include the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, the 1968 Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space, the 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (“Liability Convention”), the 1976 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space, and the 1984 Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies


Dr. Frohloff highlighted the provision for a Claims Commission in the 1972 Liability Convention. Despite its resemblance to arbitration, the Claims Commission’s awards are not binding unless agreed upon by the parties. 


In its present state, space disputes are primarily about satellite disputes. Dr. Frohloff identified the usual actors in a satellite project and noted that a contract – with an arbitration agreement – governs each relationship between these actors.


Dr. Frohloff illustrated that previous and ongoing space disputes involve commercial, investment, and space treaty conflicts. Commercial space disputes are the most common, while Space Treaty disputes are the most rare. About commercial space disputes, Dr. Frohloff examined with the class the case of ABS v. KT, which involved the sale and purchase of a satellite, the ownership of which was brought into question two years later due to alleged non-compliance to government requirements. For investment space disputes, he discussed the long-standing Devas v. India cases, which stemmed from Antrix Corporation’s (Indian Space Research Organization’s commercial arm) cancellation of its multimedia services agreement with Devas Multimedia. Finally, regarding space treaty disputes, he discussed the case of Canada v. Soviet Union, which involved the collision of two satellites: the Russian-owned Kosmos 2251 and a privately-owned US satellite Iridium 33.


The many questions raised by the LL.M. students on the topics of applicable law or the abovementioned cases were addressed thoughtfully by Dr. Frohloff. Indeed, as the Space industry constantly evolves, the complexity of disputes in the field and the demand for dispute resolution is also rising. We thank Dr.Frohloff for his valuable time and an engaging lecture. There is no better time to begin exploring arbitration in space disputes!


Leanne Marie Torrato, Class of 2023/2024