An M&A Lawyer’s Insight Into Earth’s Challenges From Outer Space

By Louis Lehot

Louis Lehot
4 min readFeb 24, 2024

As we stand at the threshold of 2024, humanity is poised for a historic lunar journey as the United States space agency (NASA) announces the crew for its upcoming trip to the moon. This team includes the first woman, the first person of color, and the first Canadian assigned to a lunar mission. However, this time, the space exploration narrative is not solely in the hands of government agencies; it is characterized by a collaborative effort involving various private actors, from startups to corporations. This resurgence in space exploration is driven by cutting-edge technologies such as 5G, advanced satellite systems, quantum computing and others. Their primary objective extends beyond conquering new frontiers; it looks at pressing challenges confronting our planet.

The business of space tourism is on the rise, and plans for expanding this novel form of escape are underway. In April 2023, the Space Tourism Conference in Los Angeles delved into discussions about the future business prospects of space tourism. According to investment bank Morgan Stanley, the entire space industry is projected to generate approximately $1 trillion in revenue by 2040. What was once just a vision has become a tangible reality for entrepreneurs, startups, the wealthy, and the famous, as space tourism emerges as an increasingly lucrative business phenomenon.

The emergence of private entities as major participants in space exploration adds an exciting dimension to the legal framework. From the perspective of an M&A lawyer specializing in technology, the unfolding developments in 2024 carry implications. Entrepreneurs are now actively involved in endeavors to construct space colonies and complete cities. While the Outer Space Treaty prohibits nations from claiming the moon and other celestial bodies, it doesn’t explicitly address the activities of private citizens. As these entities undertake forward-thinking projects, legal structures need to evolve to handle ownership, liability and international collaboration concerns. The regulatory landscape for space activities is becoming increasingly complex, necessitating legal professionals adept at navigating the complex interplay of international agreements, national regulations and private contracts.

Sustainable spacecraft propulsion is a groundbreaking and promising area within the New Space Age poised to make a significant impact. Whether electric or nuclear, the focus is on developing environmentally conscious propulsion systems capable of long-duration space missions. From a legal standpoint, this raises questions about environmental regulations, safety standards, and the allocation of responsibilities in case of mishaps.

Furthermore, deploying new Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations for seamless communications and quantum cryptography presents legal challenges. Spectrum allocation and data security become important considerations as these constellations proliferate. Space technology lawyers play a pivotal role in ensuring the legal infrastructure keeps pace with technological advancements, safeguarding the interests of private entities and the global community.

The surge in space launches, coupled with historical “fire and forget” practices, has led to overwhelming congestion in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), demanding active debris removal (ADR) for a sustainable space environment. However, ADR encounters significant legal and technical challenges. A global consensus on the definition of space debris is necessary to identify and apply legal frameworks. Existing space treaties, like the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST), lack explicit references to “space debris,” raising uncertainties in categorizing debris as “space objects.” Ownership issues further complicate matters and liability and attribution challenges arise. Additionally, sharing proprietary information and the potential weaponization of ADR technologies concerns may discourage cooperation among states and private actors.

Reflecting on history, the last Space Race catalyzed groundbreaking innovations that reshaped our world, including satellite technology, GPS and solar energy. The current return to the stars holds the promise of similar revolutions in computing, telecommunications and earth observation.

The New Space Age is a technological frontier but also a legal one. As space technologies become integral to addressing Earth’s challenges, the role of M&A lawyers specializing in technology becomes increasingly crucial. Like all industries, the space business will experience downs and ups. In the near term, as economies wrestle with the threat of recession, the commitment of VC and other funds will undoubtedly be questioned. The space industry will certainly go through periods of volatility. Navigating the legal complexities of sustainable spacecraft propulsion, LEO constellations, and the myriad challenges of private space exploration is paramount for fostering innovation while ensuring responsible and ethical practices in the final frontier.

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Louis Lehot

Louis Lehot is a partner and business lawyer with Foley & Lardner LLP, based in the firm’s Silicon Valley office. Follow on Twitter @lehotlouis