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Cleveland State University Launches Effort To Train Space Lawyers

Cleveland State University will host a Global Space Law Center. (Tony Ganzer / ideastream)

Space might have been called the final frontier for exploration, but it’s also a frontier for law. Between private businesses wanting to create colonies or mining operations, to governments looking to expand footprints in and out of orbit, there is a need for space lawyers to parse right from wrong.

Cleveland State University hopes to train those lawyers with a new Global Space Law Center. I spoke with the center’s driving force Professor Mark Sundahl, and first asked…why Cleveland?

SUNDAHL: “Well really in the day and age that we live, in this virtual day and age, it could be anywhere. Good space lawyers could be trained at any law school with the proper program, but this program is particularly well-suited to Cleveland because of our history in aviation to begin with—the Wright Brothers—and space in particular with our NASA Glenn Research Center here, as well as a number of very large, and very small, and medium-sized companies, that create components and systems for spacecraft. We’re one of the largest, if not the largest, supplier for Boeing, for example.”

GANZER: “I think when people think of ‘space’ they probably first think maybe of exploration, probably of science, not really about law. But there are many aspects of space that affect a legal structure that we have. One of those is economics, and I wonder if you can talk more about mining of steroids, mining of celestial bodies in some way. How would law affect that idea?”

SUNDAHL: “Yes, well you went straight to one of the hottest topics in space law right now, and one in which I’m intimately involved as a member of the Hague Working Group on the Governance of Space Resources, and yes there are two very well-funded companies backed by Hollywood producer James Cameron, Larry Page of Google, other heavy hitters, and they’re planning on harvesting natural resources from the moon, beginning with water which can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen for breathing and for fuel, but also mining potentially for precious metals such as platinum. But it’s very critical that we get the legal structure and clarity in place to assure investors that they will be able to keep the platinum that they mine, and that has not been clear under international law. The United States passed a law recently, and now the little city-state of Luxembourg has passed a law assuring investors that they will be able to keep the resources that are mined.”

GANZER: “A name many people probably recognize is Elon Musk, because he’s been a face of the privatization of space in many ways—reusable rockets; he just talked about wanting to go to Mars, and send a colony of people in a rocket to Mars. How does space law affect what Elon Musk is trying to do?”

SUNDAHL: “Well, I just returned from Australia where I saw Elon give his most recent presentation, and his revised vision for creating a colony on Mars. He’s creating a rocket to carry 100 people at a time to Mars, but also to the moon, and also within a half-an-hour any place on the surface of the Earth. It affects the space industry in a totally transformative way, because by reusing rockets, he is reducing the cost to orbit by a factor of five to ten, and making it much cheaper, which means that business models that were not sustainable ten years ago are sustainable and affordable.”

GANZER: “I just wonder, to go back to the space law center, when your students go through the center, what are their prospects in the job market? Where do they go from CSU, and beyond?”

SUNDAHL: “Let me talk about the nature of the center first: we’re going to be offering a global, asynchronous, online course not only to our students but any student around the world. And this is really not only about space law, but the future of legal education to have thought leaders teaching students all over the world. After they go through this online course, there will be an opportunity to participate in a research council, where we’ll be creating this work product to influence legislation; they’ll be able to participate in internships with space companies; and then the number of jobs available there are a plethora: in telecommunications, with remote sensing such as Google Earth, with the space launch companies such as Space X, with satellite manufacturing companies, it goes on an on. Again, it’s a $300 billion industry, and it’s also possible to go to work for any of the multiplicity of government agencies that are involved with regulating space activity.”

Professor Mark Sundahl will be director of Cleveland State’s Global Space Law Center. Hear more about space law in a City Club panel discussion recorded in August.

Tony Ganzer has reported from Phoenix to Cairo, and was the host of 90.3's "All Things Considered." He was previously a correspondent with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, covering issues like Swiss banks, Parliament, and refugees. He earned an M.A. in International Relations (University of Leicester); and a B.Sc. in Journalism (University of Idaho.) He speaks German, and a bit of French.