The Space Law Review: Thailand

Introduction to the national legal, regulatory and policy framework

At present, Thailand has not enacted a comprehensive national space law for the regulation of space affairs and activities in support of its space sector in accordance with international principles prescribed by the United Nations (UN). Such affairs include the registration of space objects and the management of and assistance with accidents in space. However, Thailand does have agencies that touch upon such matters, the most significant of which is the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA), a government agency assigned by the Cabinet of Thailand (the Cabinet) to manage space affairs and activities. The GISTDA does not oversee or establish centralised, comprehensive policy and regulations.

Despite this limitation, Thailand has a presence in space with its own satellites for telecommunications and the exploration of natural resources. In addition, various agencies have been (or will be) established that are responsible for satellite-related affairs, for example, the GISTDA and the National Space Policy Committee (NSPC).

In terms of laws and regulations that regulate space affairs and activities, Thailand is a party to the following multilateral treaties and bilateral treaties2 for cooperation on space matters.

  1. Multilateral treaties:
    • the UN Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies 1967; and
    • the UN Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space 1968.
  2. Bilateral treaties:
    • the Agreement between the Government of the French Republic and the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand Concerning Cooperation in the Field of Space Technologies and their Applications 2000;
    • the Agreement between the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand and the Government of the Republic of India on Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes 2002; and
    • the Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Science and Technology of the Kingdom of Thailand and the Russian Federation and Space Agency on Cooperation in the Field of Space Technologies and their Application.

In addition to the above-mentioned treaties regarding space activities, Section 60 of the Thai Constitution3 deems that satellite orbits are national assets that should be utilised to benefit the country. Access to satellite orbits requires permission from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission.

At the time of writing, Thailand is preparing to enter into two additional UN treaties: the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects 1972; and the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space 1975.

According to a GISTDA report published in July 2021,4 there are more than 35,600 businesses in Thailand related to the space industry. Such businesses are beneficial to the economy and generate income for the country, estimated at 56.122 billion baht per year.

Given the positive financial implications of the space industry, the GISTDA has proposed a draft Space Affairs Act BE (the Draft Act) to support the public and private sectors by creating a New Space economy. The Draft Act will apply to space affairs:

  1. operated in Thailand;
  2. operated outside Thailand or in space by a Thai individual, a Thai juristic person or a juristic person registered under Thai law; and
  3. involving location technologies within Thailand or by ship, plane, space object or another vehicle registered under Thai law.5

The Draft Act does not apply to space affairs relating to the military or other agencies, as will be specified by the NSPC.

The Draft Act will establish two organisations: the NSPC and the National Space Agency (NSA). The NSPC will prepare space activity policies and encourage cooperation between public and private entities to support Thailand's competitiveness in the New Space economy. The chairperson of the NSPC will be the Prime Minister, who will have the authority to control and supervise general affairs under the Draft Act. The NSA's main objective will be to regulate space affairs, space-related activities and space activities in the downstream industry and to provide academic, technological, financial and other support, which it may announce in supplemental regulations to the Draft Act. The NSA will be authorised to grant licences for conducting space-related activities. The Draft Act passed the Cabinet's approval on 13 July 2021 and will be sent to the Office of the Council of State and Parliament for their consideration and approval before becoming effective.6

Regulation in practice

The Draft Act prescribes that a natural person or a juristic person involved in space affairs must apply for a space activity licence or a space-related activity licence. This applies to space affairs carried out before the Act becomes effective; in that instance, the individual or the juristic person involved must apply for a licence within 60 days of the Act becoming effective. The Draft Act further prescribes the registration of space objects.

Distinctive characteristics of the national framework

i Definitions

Under the Draft Act, the following terms and their definitions apply.

  1. 'Space affairs'7 are defined as space and space-related activities, whether performed in space, in air space, on the Earth or under the Earth. However, under the Draft Act, 'space affairs' do not include space-related activity explicitly prescribed in other laws and regulations.
  2. 'Space activity'8 is defined as exploring, experimenting or carrying out other activities in space, including the delivery of space objects, humans and living things to space. 'Space activity' also includes performing essential activities to deliver, orbit and return space objects to Earth (e.g., providing transmission station services, landing services, design and production services, space travel services or services as further prescribed by the NSA). However, under the Draft Act, 'space activity' does not include space activity explicitly prescribed in other laws and regulations.
  3. 'Space-related activity'9 is defined as designing or producing space objects; learning, reviewing, researching or developing space-related technology or geomatics; inventing equipment related to satellites and telemedicine; and any other space-related activities specified by the NSA. However, under the Draft Act, 'space-related activity' does not include space-related activities explicitly prescribed in other laws and regulations.
  4. 'Space object'10 is defined as both a device that can send an object to space and such object in space. Such objects include Earth observation satellites, space observation satellites, global positioning satellites, telecommunications satellites, meteorological satellites, surveillance and alarm satellites, research satellites, spaceships and space stations (including their parts), and vehicles utilised for dispatching such objects to space.

ii Regulators

As mentioned in Section I, the Draft Act will establish two government agencies: the NSPC and the NSA.

The NSPC will have the following primary duties:11

  1. prepare and propose policy and plans regarding space affairs to the Cabinet;
  2. evaluate performance results according to policy and plans for space affairs;
  3. cooperate in preparing programmes and projects in the public and private sectors to increase Thailand's economic competitiveness in the space industry;
  4. support, subsidise and give advice to public and private agencies to use new space technology for the development of Thailand's economy;
  5. appoint the director of the NSA;
  6. follow up on and evaluate the operation of government agencies relating to space affairs;
  7. propose the amendment of laws and regulations regarding the development of space affairs to the Cabinet;
  8. publish regulations, rules and announcements under the Draft Act; and
  9. perform any duties specified by the Draft Act or assigned by the Cabinet.

The NSA will have the following main objectives:12

  1. prepare draft policy and plans for space affairs to propose to the NSPC;
  2. follow up and inspect operations acting per policy and plan for the space affairs of government agencies and report to the NSPC;
  3. support, regulate and develop space affairs in terms of stability, the economy, natural conservation, education and any performance related to space affairs;
  4. support and promote space research, space exploration and basic infrastructure in the space industry, including developing personnel skills in space technology;
  5. support and promote investment in the space industry;
  6. research, develop and perform any action related to space policy and planning; and
  7. cooperate with the operation of space affairs both in and outside Thailand.

iii Space affairs

The Draft Act states that the NSPC will have the authority to create and enforce the following obligations regarding space affairs:13

  1. regulate the space sector, including quality of service, competition and consumer protection;
  2. prescribe rates for government fees and service fees;
  3. specify space standards related to security, facilities and the environment;
  4. prescribe security standards for space personnel, space affairs training, production and maintenance of space objects, stations and facilities in space affairs and space traffic;
  5. prevent harm to and unlawful intervention in space affairs;
  6. examine, investigate or inspect a space object and its equipment and personnel;
  7. ensure that information and technology are transmitted securely, including equipment related to space affairs; and
  8. prescribe procedures and prohibitions relating to space affairs.

In addition, if an international organisation or another national government agency has already prescribed regulations and procedures essential to the operation of space affairs, the NSPC will be able to apply such regulations and procedures to Thai space affairs. The rules and regulations of international organisations and other government agencies will be further specified in supplemental regulations by the NSPC.

iv Space activities

The operation of space activities will require approval by the NSA, with the exception of space activities operated outside Thailand by Thai individuals, Thai juristic persons or juristic persons registered under Thai law.14 Further exceptions include engaging in space affairs under another country's law or an exempted space activity, which will be specified by the NSPC.

The NSA will have the authority to grant, suspend and revoke space activity licences. It will announce the required qualifications and characteristics of an applicant for a space activity licence, the rules and conditions to obtain the licence, and the government and licence fees in supplemental regulations to the Draft Act.

The operation of space activities may continue until the expiration date specified in the licence. The renewal of the licence must be made within 90 days of its expiration date. Rules and procedures regarding the renewal, transfer and licence fees will be further specified by the NSA.

A space activity licence requires liability insurance covering third-party liability for damage caused by a space object. The insurance limit for operating each space activity will be specified in supplemental regulations by the NSPC.

The Draft Act states that a licensee must avoid creating space debris as far as possible by implementing a plan regarding environmental protection on Earth and in the atmosphere and space. The NSA will further specify provisions regarding space debris in a supplemental regulation.

v Space-related activities

Space-related activity operators may be required to obtain a licence for certain types of space-related activities.15 The type of licence and the requirements for qualification, including suspension and revocation of a licence, will be prescribed by the NSPC in a supplemental regulation.

The Draft Act prescribes that space-related activities can be supported by the government and provides that the government may encourage investment in space matters by providing support with finances and equipment; academic research and technology development; and other matters as prescribed by the NSPC.

vi Space objects

The Draft Act prescribes that the NSA will be responsible for registering space objects.16 The registration of space objects, the qualifications of the applicants, the details of space objects (e.g., their purpose and capabilities) and the amendment of the registry of space objects will be further announced by the NSPC.

In addition, the transfer of space objects registered in Thailand to foreigners, foreign countries or international organisations is prohibited under the Draft Act without obtaining prior permission from the NSPC. Furthermore, the transfer of ownership will include a condition that a state or international organisation must have an agreement with Thailand that such state or international organisation will be responsible for all liability and damage incurred from a space object.

vii Government liability17

The Draft Act prescribes that the government is responsible for damage that occurs outside Thailand related to space activities, space objects or space-related activities by a Thai individual or a Thai juristic person to a third party, regardless of whether the activity or object is licensed or registered. If the government has settled a dispute and paid compensation to a third party, it will have the right of recourse to the individual or the juristic person who caused the damage.

viii Rescue of astronauts and return of space objects

The Draft Act states that if an accident occurs as a result of the actions of a licensed Thai space activity operator, or an accident occurs in Thailand, the licensee that is conducting the space activity or its representatives must inform the NSA as soon as possible.18 The notification must include the cause and site of the accident and a plan to prevent and mitigate any damage (when an accident occurs, the licensee must make efforts to mitigate the damage without delay). When the NSA has received notification regarding an accident from a licensee, it must immediately notify the countries that sent or registered the space objects and the relevant international organisations through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Regarding the return of space objects, the Draft Act prescribes that if a space object is found in Thailand's sovereign area or in the Thai jurisdiction19 according to international law, the person who finds the space object must notify the competent officials and the NSA as soon as possible. Upon receiving notification, the NSA will notify the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which will in turn notify the relevant state or international organisation. The NSA will take the appropriate action to discover and acquire the space object. If a state or international organisation requests that the NSA return the space object, the NSA must do so or retain the space object under the authority of a state representative.

Current developments

As mentioned in Section I, the Draft Act received the Cabinet's approval on 13 July 2021. It will be sent to the Office of the Council of State and Parliament for consideration and approval before becoming effective. The supplemental regulations of the Draft Act, which have not yet been published, will prescribe the rules and procedures for licence applications in more detail (e.g., qualifications of licensees, requirements and conditions to obtain licences, insurance limits).

By the time the Draft Act and its supplemental regulations have been reviewed and considered by the relevant government authorities, the government will have prepared a draft National Space Master Plan (2020–2037) (the Master Plan). The Master Plan has been approved by the Cabinet in principle and sent to the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) for further consideration. The NESDC will advise on the Master Plan by:

  1. focusing on the development strategy to support the research and development of space technology, including changes in space technology;
  2. preparing a programme to support space industry personnel;
  3. reviewing and specifying clear regulations; and
  4. identifying ways to encourage public and private entities to participate in the space industry.

The Master Plan will be reviewed and amended according to the NESDC's advice and will be proposed to the Cabinet accordingly.

Outlook and conclusions

Space-related technology increasingly applies to daily life, benefiting both the public and the private sectors. More than 35,600 enterprises, most of them small or medium-sized, operate space-related businesses in Thailand, generating an income of approximately 56.122 billion baht. The technology that these companies produce helps to mitigate and prevent national disasters, including floods, drought and other climate crises. The technology has also been applied to issues brought about by covid-19 and has helped to identify different locations for commercial and medical activities. Given these benefits, it is expected that the Thai government will request the use of more space technology in the future, and that the number of space-related businesses will grow accordingly.

As space businesses and activities involve cross-border operators and international organisations, Thailand requires transparent, up-to-date and adequate space laws to enable proper, legal operation of space activities and to gain trust from all operators. For this reason, the NSPC and the NSA will be essential to governing and developing Thailand's space law.

Moreover, the Draft Act will support the development of secondary laws regulating procedures and policies on space operations to support businesses and technologies related to space and develop the country's economy.

Finally, as Thailand has multiple government authorities that manage and govern different elements of the space industry, it is crucial for these authorities, especially the NSPC and the NSA once established, to work closely and harmoniously with each other to achieve the best outcome for the Thai space sector.

Footnotes

1 John P Formichella and Naytiwut Jamallsawat are partners and Onnicha Khongthon is an associate at Formichella & Sritawat Attorneys at Law.

2 Available in Thai on the website of the Department of Treaties and Legal Affairs (https://treaties.mfa.go.th).

3 BE 2560 (2017).

5 Section 4 of the Draft Act.

6 At the time of writing, the status of the Draft Act is unknown. Any developments will be published in the Royal Gazette.

7 Section 3 of the Draft Act.

8 ibid.

9 ibid.

10 ibid.

11 Section 12 of the Draft Act.

12 Section 20 of the Draft Act.

13 Sections 46 to 48 of the Draft Act.

14 Sections 49 to 61 of the Draft Act.

15 Sections 68 to 71 of the Draft Act.

16 Sections 62 to 67 of the Draft Act.

17 Section 72 of the Draft Act.

18 Sections 73 to 78 of the Draft Act.

19 'Thailand's sovereign area' refers to the physical area of Thailand, such as territorial waters, land and air space. 'Thai jurisdiction' refers to places or scenarios whereby Thailand has legal jurisdiction, such as Thai vessels, Thai aircraft and Thai spacecraft.

The Law Reviews content