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‘Boundless’ opportunities for women in space law

As outer space becomes more commonly explored and nations across the globe continue to invest in space exploration, increased governance is needed as the industry evolves. Here, women in space law discuss upcoming legal trends and share why more female lawyers can – and should – consider a career in the sector.

user iconLauren Croft 13 March 2024 Big Law
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The global space sector has, over the last 10 years, undergone significant change. Commercial rocket launches – the likes of SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic – are more common, and countries across the world, including Australia, have established military space command units and are investing in space programs.

In 2021, the Space Foundation estimated that the global space economy was worth US$469 billion – expected to grow to US$642 billion by 2030 – and an increased need for regulation in the sector has led to the growth of space law.

However, despite the 1967 Outer Space Treaty stating that space shall be the “province of all mankind”, the space economy is dominated by a few powerful nations and by government and commercial organisations that are predominantly male-led.


As such, the role of women in space law is both pivotal and transformative – and having diversity in this sector can have a range of positive impacts moving forward. And according to these women in space law, there are a range of exciting opportunities for female lawyers within the industry.

A growing and evolving practice area

Space law is becoming more important than ever, with new space flights and exploration activities being launched by private entities. As such, new laws are needed to govern activity in outer space.

This is something barrister, space lawyer, and College of Law lecturer in international arbitration Helen Tung echoed in a recent episode of The Lawyers Weekly Show. After studying and practising law, Tung was accepted into a scholarship to study at the International Space University and said there were “lots of opportunities” in the space.

“There’s a huge opportunity in terms of everyone starting on the same page, and it’s exploratory,” she said.

“You can think of so many ways that you can actually develop law, practise law and shape the landscape, the future landscape of how our lives could be like.”

In fact, this area of law is expanding so much that the University of Sydney Law School’s inaugural 2023 course in space law reached its student enrolment limit with a wait list, according to Dr Rebecca Connolly, University of Sydney Law School adjunct senior lecturer in space and technology law and board member of the space law council of Australia and New Zealand.

“A mix of Australian and international students (from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas) have enrolled to learn International Space Law at the University of Sydney. The International Space Law course was amongst the highest enrolments for elective postgraduate law course units in 2023 at the Sydney Law School – a significant feat for a brand new course,” she said.

“Space Law taps into our childhood sense of wonder – didn’t we all want to be an astronaut at some stage? The enticing mix of adventure, excitement and allure of far-off galaxies combined with innovative technological development makes outer space the perfect subject for this tech-savvy generation of law students.

“International space law is much bigger than laws simply relating to launch, it embraces topics ranging from space sustainability, space mining, space tourism, space surveillance, space security and militarisation, space diversity, protection of the night sky and First Nations peoples and the preservation of cultural space heritage – there is something in the course for everyone.”

Dr Cassandra Steer, deputy director – mission specialists at ANU Institute for Space (InSpace) and chair of the Australian Centre for Space Governance, added that there is also a range of different legal practice areas that are relevant within the space law sector.

“There is such a wide range of issues in space law, as a tech sector that is expanding domestically, and a key part of global commerce, science, military and security issues,” she told Lawyers Weekly.

“Space tech permeates our lives, and so there are opportunities for lawyers to offer a range of traditional services like contracts, labour law, business law, insurance and tax, and a range of intellectual property and real property interests; or to assist in complying with national security obligations for start-ups; or for government lawyers to think about risk assessments and indemnities, international MOUs and international relations as we see more tech partnerships emerge with India and other Asia-Pacific nations.”

HWL Ebsworth special counsel Nikki Macor Heath is a technology lawyer, and she added that the space sector has allowed her to connect and work with various lawyers from various practice areas.

“Space law is an exciting area which offers incredible opportunities for learning and becoming part of a vibrant community which is welcoming to anyone who shows genuine interest,” she emphasised.

“As a technology lawyer, the space industry gives me the chance to work closely with my colleague in disputes and regulatory, Veronica Mignone, and develop networks with lawyers of many different stripes as well as engineers, entrepreneurs, risk and compliance managers, insurance brokers, software developers and doctors – with many women among them.”

More female representation needed

As space law is a fairly new area, this means that, similar to STEM, it’s still dominated by men. However, it also means the barriers to entry for female lawyers are lower, Tung said.

“[Getting into space law needs] two things. It’s giving oneself the confidence, and then secondly, it is the unlearning. And the reason why I think mid-career female lawyers would be perfect candidates to enter the space sector is because they’re already experts in their field … We all start on ground zero, but we work together to build. And I think one of the most interesting things that’s also shocked me a little is how embracing the space sector is towards me,” she said.

“My wish is for more female leaders, but I don’t think I need to wish for it. I think it’s going to happen because I think we need it. I think we need more feminine energy in the space sector – if we’re going to care about planet Earth, we might use that mentality to care about our other planets as well. And I really think it will be a journey for whoever wishes to embark on this.”

Later this month, the Australian Space Diversity Alliance, a national network co-founded by a mixed-gender group (though predominantly women) from across the whole country and from a range of disciplines, will be launched – something which Steer said will promote greater diversity within the space sector.

“Globally, women make up just 20 per cent of the entire space sector, including in the legal sphere. This figure has remained static for over 30 years. So even as more women join the sector, many of them must be leaving at the same rate. There is no research yet to show us why this is, but we do know that the same familiar barriers exist in legal practices as they do in STEM,” she said.

“There are unconscious biases in hiring processes which have been shown to prejudice against women with the same CV as male candidates (some research has involved switching names or removing any gender identifiers from CVs). There are challenges regarding returning to work after maternity leave and flexible working arrangements for working mothers – who still carry the lion’s share of domestic responsibilities compared to working fathers. In organisations where leadership remains predominantly male, there are fewer pipelines for women to reach senior levels. This is no different in space law than other areas of law.”

The space industry also needs lawyers across a variety of different practice areas, including the “core” space law discipline, according to Macor Heath, who added that while there are some female leaders within the space, increased diversity is always a good thing.

“The space industry needs lawyers across many different practice areas, including the core space law discipline. While defence has traditionally been a key focus for space law, with the dawn of ‘new space’, a much broader range of commercial legal support is now in demand. We need strong female representation across technology, insurance, telecommunications, property, litigation and many other areas of law, and for those lawyers to take an interest in the space industry and its unique challenges and opportunities,” she explained.

“Encouragingly, there are some formidable female leaders in the space law industry, both in Australia and internationally. Space law is a modern practice area with a foundation in international law, and those features help to open the way for women to make their mark in academia and practice.

“Diversity in perspective, background and experience is crucial to development of policy, treaties and law in any area, and as space becomes increasingly intrinsic to life and business on Earth, having strong representation from a group making up half the population will ensure space continues to be for everyone.”

Having a more diverse workforce, according to Steer, leads to “greater innovation, higher productivity, and employee retention”, as diverse environments are generally more appealing.

“It’s important for law firms to be prioritising this across the board. For space law, in particular, I’ve written about the need for greater diversity to foster diverse perspectives [on] legal and policy interpretations. This avoids biases in interpretations, and potentially to greater innovation in regulatory challenges.

“There are inequalities in terms of access to satellite internet and telecommunications for education (particularly important where girls are denied formal education) or to connect communities in remote regions; Earth observation data which supports agriculture, fisheries, land and water management, and the ability to respond to climate change; digital payment systems that depend on precision timing from satellites can assist women depending on local economies,” she added.

“These can only be addressed if we address the inequalities at the design and decision-making levels. One clear example is in the developments in space arms control and the application of the laws of armed conflict to space operations. Satellite systems are interrupted or targeted during times of tension and conflict to compromise adversaries. But because civilians depend on the very same technologies, we need to take into account the gender implications of loss of critical services, where girls and women are already disproportionately impacted in war.”

These “significant gender gaps” in the space industry, both within Australia and across the globe, make now the “perfect time for female lawyers to consider a career in the field of space law”, emphasised Connolly.

“The scope of the opportunities for space lawyers is boundless from corporate and commercial space work, in-house counsel, government, defence and national security through to working at the United Nations on global space governance – space law presents a unique opportunity to carve out your own niche,” she said.

“Space law is a fast-growing and evolving field and is calling out for talented, passionate and highly motivated women. The field of space law would benefit from female and diverse representation by fostering varied perspectives, enhancing inclusivity and ensuring holistic solutions to address space legal challenges moving forward. Increasing female representation is vital to ensure that all voices contribute to our evolving space industry.”