The Outer Space Treaty (TOST)

By Sarnith Varun

December 12, 2022
President Lyndon B. Johnson and USSR Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin shaking hands at the Signing Ceremony for the Outer Space Treaty, January 27, 1967. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

Space Laws can be imagined as a guidebook stating the fundamentals of Do’s and Don’ts for any individual or organization when it’s undertaking any space activity. 

These laws are administered by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) which has set out 5 primary sets of space law treaties:

  • The Outer Space Treaty
  • The Rescue Agreement
  • Registration Convention
  • Liability Convention
  • The Moon Agreement

In this article, we will be discussing the first and the most significant treaty out of all the other Space Law Treaties, which is The Outer Space Treaty.

The Outer Space Treaty (TOST) is one of the 5 space laws enforced by UNOOSA which has a set of 9 principles that need to be followed by states that perform any outer space activity. 

The Outer Space Treaty includes the fundamental framework of international space law.

History of The Outer Space Treaty (TOST)

During the 1950s, spaceflight and missions became prominent due to the space race, a period of immense competition for spaceflight supremacy between the United States and the Soviet Union. 

This was also the period of the cold war between the two nations. 

The development of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, a deadly missile that could attack targets through outer space was one of the primary reasons behind the introduction of TOST.

Hence, a legal framework was required to keep the use of space only peaceful and for the beneficiary of mankind.

The Outer Space Treaty is the first space law that was opened to be signed by the 3 depositary governments namely the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the Russian Government.

What is a Depositary?

A depository is a government or organization to which a multilateral treaty is entrusted. 

In 1966, the idea of the TOST originated and in the same year was agreed upon by the General Assembly.

It was already largely based upon the “Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space”, a similar law passed by the assembly 3 years before the idea of a wider notion with added provisions aka TOST. 

In January 1967, it was opened for signature and came into effect in October 1967. 

Today, 112 countries including all the major space-faring nations have signed and ratified TOST[1].

Why is The Outer Space Treaty important?

The Outer Space Treaty forms the framework of the other space laws by UNOOSA. 

All the other space law treaties are directly or indirectly derived from the existing principles of TOST.

Humanity is progressing toward becoming a multi-planetary species.

When space travel becomes more frequent, we will require a set of safety protocols to be enforced when civilians use space for travel. 


TOST stresses using space for peaceful purposes and poses restrictions on stationing any kind of weapons of mass destruction in space, prohibiting nuclear weapons in space. 

9 Principles of The Outer Space Treaty

Exploration Should be Beneficial for Mankind

The exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind.

This law is very self-explanatory, space exploration should benefit humanity’s advancement of technology and survival of mankind.

Space and celestial bodies should not be used to test weapons and arms by any state.

Freedom for Exploration of Outer Space

Outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all states.

This law focuses on the fact that no country can set up restrictions on the boundaries of exploration. 

No space organization has to pay any other organization to venture out into space (unless there are deals and collaboration between the two). 

Note, that it does not mean that countries can launch their space missions without registering the details of the project with UNOOSA.

This rule is mentioned in “The Registration Convention” by UNOOSA. 

Space is for Everyone!

Outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.

No state can own any of the celestial objects that are in space. 

But the goals of the Artemis Mission by NASA are wholly and solely based on the moon, isn’t this a violation of TOST? 

There was a lot of debate on this matter but the US Government seems to have found a way to avoid violation of TOST, they just created an exception for themselves


The Artemis Accords 

In 2020, The US Government under the Trump Administration created the Artemis Accords.

The goal of the Artemis Mission is to expand space exploration to Mars but before that explore the Moon to the fullest. 


The Artemis Accords is an agreement between the US Government and other nations to cooperate on the peaceful exploration of the Moon and the other celestial bodies.

The accord has been approved (they cannot really deny it) by TOST authorities and is open to be signed by any state.

8 national space agencies namely Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States signed the accord on 13 October 2020. 

Most Important Provisions of Artemis Accords

Affirm that cooperative activity under these Accords should be exclusively for peaceful purposes and in accordance with relevant international law.

  • Confirm a commitment to transparency and to sharing scientific information, consistent with Article XI of the Outer Space Treaty.
  • Include a commitment to mitigate space debris and to limit the generation of new, harmful space debris in normal operations, break-up in operational or post-mission phases, and accidents.
  • Specify responsibility for the registration of objects in space, as required by the Registration Convention.

Criticism of the Artemis Accord

The Russian Government and the Chinese government opposed the Artemis Accord for being “America Centralized”. 

The two space-giant nations feel that the law favors the United States’s commercial interests while the Artemis Accords also violate another significant law.

According to TOST, no country can claim any celestial body as its own, but the accord allows the states who signed the accord to claim any resource that has been extracted from the space objects.

However, other nations have supported the Artemis mission’s ambitions and the Artemis Accords as it is ultimately working towards the benefit of all.

No Nuclear Weapons in Space

States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner

As discussed earlier, this was the main reason behind the introduction of TOST.

The law explains that no modern weapon capable of causing mass destruction should not be placed in space. 


However, a very interesting incident happened in 1974 with the Salyut 3 mission.

The Salyut 3 or known as OPS 2 or Almaz 2 was reportedly a secret military mission by the soviet union. 

Almaz 2 was included in the Salyut mission to hide its military intentions. 

Shortly after the end of the cold war and before deorbiting the Soyuz station, it was later revealed that OPS 2 contained a “self-defense” gun or more like a canon onboard the station to fire and was fired a total of 3 times on a target satellite. 

Well, this law also means that Tony Stark can’t have Veronica orbiting around the Earth 🙂

Moon Exploration for Peaceful Purposes Only

The Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes

The Moon Agreement, a separate law just based upon the Moon is part of the 5 fundamental Space Laws.

It discusses the various procedures to follow when an object is launched to be stationed on the moon.

This principle formed the basis for the more elaborate Moon Agreement, which became a dedicated law after the prominence of satellites and missions to the moon.

Astronauts Represent Humanity

Astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind 

What does this mean? The book defines ‘envoy’ as a messenger or representative, especially on a diplomatic mission. 

So the description ‘envoys of mankind’ means that the astronauts represent the entire mankind. 

They are sent on behalf of mankind, hence are protected. 

Permission for emergency landings ensures their survival at costs, and all states shall assist the astronauts in case of crash landings and emergencies in space.


But with commercial space flights, are the passengers envoys of mankind? 

The answer is that it depends on their spaceflight journey. 

According to the ESPI, short suborbital space flights (Flights which travel lesser than the escape velocity of earth ie. around 11km/sec) passengers are not considered envoys of mankind simply because it’s not as risky as orbital flights. [3]

Moreover, the purpose of suborbital flights like the recent Virgin Galactic Unity 22 and New Shepard by Blue Origin owned by Jeff Bezos taking Civilian space passengers on suborbital spaceflight including Richard Branson on the Unity 22 and Jeff Bezos on New

Shepard respectively was just simply for the experience of spaceflight and had no significant scientific goal. 

Although it was historic, being the first ever all-civilian spaceflight. 

The Case of the Axiom Mission 1 was completely different.

Axiom, Space Inc. is a private space company founded by the Iranian American Businessman Kam Ghaffariam.

Axiom Mission 1 was the first all-privately funded, private crew mission to the ISS.

The crew consisted of Michael Lopez Alegria, a former NASA Astronaut and also the VP of Axiom, space inc. Larry Connor, an American Business person, Mark Pathy, A Canadian entrepreneur and Eytan Stibbe, a former Israeli Fighter Pilot and a businessman boarded the crew dragon space endeavor (space capsule) and launched from the Falcon block 5 rocket on the 8th of April,2022.  

Each astronaut paid 55 Million USD for their ticket to the ISS. 

What was different about Axiom Mission 1 was that it was a complete orbital spaceflight, unlike the other space-tourism missions by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic which were suborbital. 

The crew stayed in orbit for 17 days and conducted 25 experiments while on board the ISS.

So, in a way, Axiom Mission 1 crew members did check all the necessary boxes to be considered “envoys of mankind”.

They successfully conducted experiments and safely returned to earth on the 25th of April, 2022.

This principle acted as the basis for the separate space law The Rescue Agreement which largely discusses the role of other nations in assisting astronauts during emergencies, offering help upon request, and ensuring their safe return to earth. 

Government’s Responsibility for Space Activities

States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental entities.

Note that the state is responsible for both governmental and also non-governmental entities. 

This means that the state is accountable for even the acts of private organizations and individuals.  


States Are Liable for Their Space Objects

States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects; and

States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.   

Space Laws have been set to protect celestial objects from contamination during exploration, research activities, mining, etc. 

The States which caused damage would be answerable to the UN and UNOOSA and required action will be taken by the general assembly.

This is not in practice as the increase in space debris is highly concerning and hazardous to future space exploration missions. 

Although no particular organization could be blamed for space debris, it is a matter of concern that should be taken care of and regulated.

Like the other laws, this also acted as the basis for The Liability Convention, a more elaborate account of the state’s responsibility towards the space objects they launch. 


The Outer Space Treaty is our earliest attempt at peaceful exploration.

It is no doubt that TOST is a noble effort to unite the spaceflight “giants”.

We should also appreciate the fact that TOST was introduced just at the right time amidst all the tension.


It ensured that space would not be a part of the political agenda between states.

It is safe to say that is sufficient for today’s requirements, but it will definitely not be enough for the future. 

UNOOSA would have to amend and introduce new laws in the future when space travel and mining become mainstream.


Sarnith Varun, ‘UNOOSA’s Five Outer Space Treaties (Laws)‘, Evincism


  1. Wikipedia, ‘List of parties’, “As of February 2022, 112 countries are parties to the treaty”,[]
  2. The Artemis Accords and mining rules on moon, explained’,The Hindu Business Line, 12 September 2022, “The Artemis plan clarifies the legal basis for using space resources in support of the Artemis missions in an agreement called the Artemis Accords. Legally speaking, the Accords are not a treaty: they do not create binding obligations under international law. They only apply to the US and the other countries that intend to take part in the Artemis missions”,[]
  3. Cenan AL-EKABI, ‘Revisiting ‘Envoys of Mankind’ in the Era of Commercial Human …’, October 2012, p.[2], “An ‘orbit’ can be described as a regular, repeating path that one object in space takes around another one under the influence of gravity. The velocity needed to escape Earth’s gravitational pull is about 11.3 km/s, i.e. about 40,680 km/hr. However, in order to orbit at an altitude of 200 km above Earth, an orbital velocity of 28,000 km/hr is required”,[]