The Public Order of The Geostationary Orbit: Blueprints for The Future

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The Yale Journal of World Public Order


The use of space has grown exponentially. It is impossible today to conceive of international communications, weather forecasting, or the screening of the riches of the earth without the help of space-based devices.' Full-scale industrialization of outer space is under way, and space has become a critical arena for military strategists in the global duel. Many of these uses can be performed successfully only by placing a satellite at a very special location in outer space, the so-called geostationary orbit. Only in this ring high above the earth's equator can space objects be maintained in a fairly stable position relative to the earth. In 1963, the United States launched the first geostationary satellite, Syncom-2. Since then, demand for positions in the orbit has grown rapidly. The rigid constraints of science and technology further stimulate fierce competition. With ever-growing use, saturation of the geostationary orbit has become a matter of widespread concern. In particular, countries less advanced in space technology fear that these valuable orbital positions will be fully occupied before they are capable of launching their own devices. Inclusive arenas have come to deal with the issue, primarily the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS). The public order of the geostationary orbit is an annually recurring topic of the agenda of UNCOPUOS, and the ITU will devote a two-session world administrative radio conference in 1985 and 1988 to the use of the geostationary orbit and the planning of space services utilizing it. Consensus has been reached that the geostationary orbit is a limited natural resource, the limits of which may soon be reached, and access to which has to be provided on an equitable basis. This Article explores the specific nature and community relevance of the geostationary orbit, the claims raised and trends in decision with respect to its use, and possible regimes under which this finite and precious resource can be distributed among the numerous claimants in the world community. It proposes a flexible framework of inclusive control over the area, based on the view of the orbit as a res publica internationalis.

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Publication Date

Spring 1983