Complications - which launching state?

Things are confusing for payloads launched by one state on behalf of another. The legal language of "launching state" is defined in Article I of the Convention as either "(i) A State which launches or procures the launching of a space object;" or "(ii) A State from whose territory or facility a space object is launched". Usually and traditionally it has been the payload owner country, not the launching state country, which does the registration. The United States occasionally registers payloads which it launched but which belong to another country, but this is not done in any systematic way. In these cases I have considered the payload to be a United States payload unless it was subsequently re-registered by another state. 10 of the French payloads belonged to ESRO, and several to EUTELSAT. Until 1981 the USA registered all INTELSAT payloads, since INTELSAT has its headquarters in the USA. Since 1981, it has omitted all these payloads. It can be seen that almost 10 percent of US payloads since 1980 are unregistered. China also has a bad record, since it only began registering launches a few years ago. Japan has a good score but it recently missed a few launches. Since the first edition, Canada and France registered all of their missing satellites; this began an overall improvement in compliance, as Spain and Korea registered their outstanding satellites in 1996 and other countries followed. Germany has also registered some of its outstanding satellites but not others (it's also a bit odd that the second CRISTA-SPAS flight was registered by the USA and not Germany). The US has registered a few of the Space Shuttle flights it forgot earlier, but a couple of classified satellites remain unacknowledged, and some of its registered satellites did not include orbital data, or included orbital data which were manifestly spurious, in violation of Article IV of the Convention.

There are a number of difficult and arguable cases. I recently discovered that the UN and the European Center for Space Law have indeed discussed this issue, see these links.

The tradition that "launching state" is to be interpreted as "owner state" is now being challenged by some states. Although The UK has acknowledged (ST/SG/SER.E/417) the existence of the Inmarsat satellites, but denies it is the 'launching state' or 'state of registry' for the purposes of the convention, despite the fact that it obviously should be. Since it was doing the ITU filings for Intelsat (Bermuda) Ltd., it should be doing the UN filings for them too. INMARSAT was an intergovernmental organization at the time but unlike ESA did not establish its own registry. In earlier cases, registrations for intergovernmental organizations were carried out by their headquarters host state until a specific registry was established.

Similarly (A/AC.105/806), the Netherlands has denied `state of registry' responsibility for satellites owned by the New Skies company located in that country. Although the documents in question don't spell out who they think should register those satellites, the implication seems to be that it should be the state which carries out the launch services (itself potentially rather unclear to define - e.g. in the case of Sea Launch missions).

Giving credence to these objections, I have reassigned those specific satellites to the states which did actually launch them (on the grounds that if they didn't want responsibility they should have made sure someone else did). I note that Article II says "Where there are two or more launching States in respect of any such space object, they shall jointly determine which one of them shall register the object". This is apparently being ignored. Further, Article VII says that states which are members of intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) are meant to make sure that the IGO sets up its own registry with the UN. This Article was also ignored in the cases of Intelsat and Inmarsat.

The state most affected by this change is France, which registers Ariane launches. Several NSS and Inmarsat satellites spurned by the Netherlands and the UK were launched on Ariane, but were (naturally) omitted from the very comprehensive French filings. I'm adding them to the list of unregistered French satellites, but I welcome suggestions for a more appropriate assignment consistent with Articles I, II and VII.

Complications - what is a satellite?

Some states register all their space objects, while others register only `payloads' - objects which perform a useful function, as opposed to empty rocket stages and space debris. In principle it would be nice if everyone registered all objects, since the purpose of the convention is to prevent hiding of payloads, which could be done by concealing them as apparently nonfunctional craft. However for the time being I am only including in this report objects thought to be payloads.

Even here there is, of course, ambiguity. Of the circa 6500 satellites considered here, 52 are special cases in this respect: