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Boundaries of space

  1. Jun 27, 2010 #1
    I know there are no actual boundaries, other than the point where our atmosphere ends and space begins. My question is based on the idea that, on the planet, we have "national boundaries" where an ocean meets a landmass, and the country there claims the ocean within that boundary as national waters, and outside of that boundary as international waters.

    Is there such a boundary when it comes to space? Is there a point where all the space between the planet and that line is the territorial space of earth (and divided up according to what country that space is over), and beyond that line is international, or interplanetary, space?

    I ask because I know that when it comes to mineral rights, a landowner that has such rights, so far as I know, has the rights straight down all the way through the crust, perpetually all the way to the center of the core of the planet. (Yes, I know that no one tries to claim rights that far down.)

    I am trying to determine where one might be able to "stake a claim" to a part of space that no earth agency can override due to their own claims. I know this is a science forum, not a political one, but there is no information I can find online anywhere, and I felt that if scientists have any idea of where our control of space ends, this would be the place to ask.
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  3. Jun 27, 2010 #2


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    According to what I've read, countries have rights to the airspace above their land, up to a maximum height of 60,000 feet. Above this level, there are no restrictions, so this could be considered the level at which space begins.
  4. Jun 27, 2010 #3


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    Well, the USSR tried to shoot down our spy planes, which flew up to around 85,000.
  5. Jun 27, 2010 #4


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    Two things:

    1] "the point where our atmosphere ends and space begins" I hope that you mean this figuratively. The transition from atmo to space is continuous and extensive (can be thousands of miles). To determine how extensive requires one to first make an arbitrary call as to how low a pressure constitutes the vacuum vacuum.

    2] I'm pretty sure there's an international agreement that says no one can stake claims in space. Not sure how comprehensive or unilateral it is.
  6. Jun 28, 2010 #5


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    People will someday stake territorial claims to property in space. It just isnt an issue yet because our reach is so limited and transitory. Not much point in arguing over what is beyond everyone's reach. You can, however, still buy your very own star, if so inclined. No territorial disputes have yet reached the courts.
  7. Jun 28, 2010 #6
    There is a UN treaty on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (not sure if that is the correct exact name.... been years since I read up on this stuff), not all nations are signatories to it, however. That might be a good place to start.

    The sky/space legal distinction does indeed have some very practical and immediate implications. Governments can and do allow and refuse permission to use national 'airspace' for aircraft flights: sometimes closing airspace for security purposes or refusing overflight permission for other nations military activities. This does not really apply for 'space-borne' travel from an internationally legal standpoint. These are the distinctions that international diplomatic incidents are made of.

  8. Jun 28, 2010 #7
    Yes, I meant it figuratively. I know that the transition is not a set line. I was merely referring to the established "boundary" that is something like 50 miles above sea level. And, if you look at the earth through Google Earth, you can see the thin band of blue representing the atmosphere around the "edge" of the planet. While it looks like there is a distinctive boundary between the atmosphere and space, that boundary is actually indistinct, and not sharply defined.

    I found the UNOOSA (UN Office for Outer Space Affairs. There I found the descriptions of the treaties that have been made concerning the use of space. In it, there is a list of questions, including "Can any State claim a part of outer space as its own?". In answer, it says, "No. The Outer Space Treaty states that outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means. The Treaty establishes the exploration and use of outer space as the "province of all mankind". The Moon Agreement expands on these provisions by stating that neither the surface nor the subsurface of the Moon (or other celestial bodies in the solar system), nor any part thereof or natural resources in place, shall become property of any State, international intergovernmental or non-governmental organization, national organization or non- governmental entity or of any natural person."

    I guess this means that all the claims staked on the Moon, and all the square inches of land sold on the Moon, are invalid and illegal?
  9. Jun 28, 2010 #8


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    What does this UN treaty say about where national airspace stops and outer space begins?
  10. Jun 28, 2010 #9
    The quote I put in the last post was from a list of FAQs concerning all 5 treaties. Upon further investigation, I found http://www.unoosa.org/pdf/reports/ac105/AC105_769E.pdf. This document covers the history of the UNOOSA's attempts to define and delimit outer space.

    The conclusion states (and this is after 40 sessions between 1966 and 2001):

    Since the beginning of its consideration of the question of the definition and delimitation of outer space, in 1967, the Legal Subcommittee has heard diverse views on the issue and considered and addressed numerous proposals received. No agreements on substantive legal issues relating to the definition and delimitation of outer space are apparent from the reports of the Subcommittee or of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. However, consensus has been reached on the referral of the issue to the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee for consideration; the preparation and updating of background papers on the question; the establishment of a working group to consider the issue on a priority basis; the consideration of issues relating to aerospace objects; the finalization of a questionnaire on possible legal issues with regard to aerospace objects; the preparation of a comprehensive analysis of the replies received to the questionnaire; that the questionnaire could serve as a basis for future consideration of the subject; and on the preparation of the present historical summary on the question of the definition and delimitation of outer space.

    I also found this document:


    Annex II, Item 14 states:

    The Working Group noted the proposal of the Chairman that the topic for the symposium to be organized by the International Institute of Space Law and the European Centre for Space Law in the framework of the forty-ninth session of the Subcommittee, in 2010, could relate to the issue of the definition and delimitation of outer space.

    I take this to mean that there is no official delimitation of outer space, so far as the UN is concerned.
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2010
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