The NASRDA Act; Beyond a Domestic Implementation of International Space Obligations

NASRDA Strategic Space Application Building

The National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) Act is Nigeria’s chief space legislation. Enacted in 2010, the Act represents a strong restatement of Nigeria’s commitment to its space ambition which she declared during an intergovernmental meeting in Addis Ababa in 1976. The Act makes Nigeria one of the African countries to have national space legislation and one of the even fewer African countries to have national legislation and policy regarding space. The Act is, however, not without its limitations.

This article shall review the NASRDA Act with crucial emphasis on the extent to which it acts as an enabling framework for the further development of Nigeria’s space capabilities.
The NASRDA Act is excellent legislation in that it meets the standards required by international law. It establishes an agency to oversee the nation’s space activities. Further, and importantly, it gives a much-needed perspective to Nigeria’s space activities.

The Act establishes a platform for Private Sector Participation (PSP) in recognition of the unparalleled importance of PSP. An explicit function of the Agency is to “develop national strategies for the exploitation of the outer space and make this part of the overall national development strategies, and implement strategies for promoting private sector participation in the space industry.”

In furtherance of this duty, the Act establishes a licensing system to enable PSP. Section 9 of the NASRDA Act empowers the Agency to grant licenses to body corporates regarding issues in Section 6(k) (which refers to the Agency’s function to “be the repository of all satellite data over Nigeria’s territory and accordingly, all collaborations and consultation in space data related matters in Nigeria”). The mention of “Satellite Data” clarifies that the licenses granted are regarding satellite remote sensing operations.

In keeping up with international requirements, especially Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty – which provides for international responsibility of a state over offences committed by its nationals, Section 9 of the Act ensures that the Agency shall not grant a license to prospective private personnel unless the Agency is satisfied that the activities of the licensee will not jeopardize public health and the safety of persons or properties, is consistent with the international obligations of Nigeria; and shall not impair the national security of Nigeria. Closely mirroring the UK Outer Space Act, the provision seeks to monitor the activities of the private sector, as the Liability Convention – the international regime for liability in space and on earth – does not recognize nationals of countries; the Liability Convention only recognizes state parties.

Other provisions for the grant of a license includes, among others, requirements to prevent contamination of outer space or interference with the space activities of others, to dispose of a payload after the termination of operations, or to insure against third-party liability.

Additionally, the NASRDA Act provides for the obligation of the Agency to “maintain a register of Space Objects,” which shall include “particulars of such space objects as the Agency considers appropriate to comply with the international obligations of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

The Act, in section 11, also provides for the establishment of several “Development Centres”, each charged with specific purposes, which all contribute to the realization of the national space policy. Some of these centres include The National Centre for Remote Sensing, Jos, charged with satellite data acquisition, archiving and distribution, amongst others; Centre for Basic Space Science and Astronomy, Nsukka, charged with the provision of sound education, research and knowledge in astronomy and physics, cosmology and the origin of life, solar territorial physics, etc.

The NASRDA Act is a significant landmark in Nigeria and Africa’s space development. It expresses Nigeria’s commitment to the development of its space capabilities. It also implements most of the country’s international obligations. The Act provides an excellent foundation upon which Nigeria may build a solid space law framework, but no more.

The NASRDA Act is – or ought to be – foundational legislation, much the same way the Outer Space Treaty is a foundational treaty, subsequently fleshed out by the four other space legislations. However, the Act and the Defence Space Administration Act seem to be the only legislation that governs space activities in Nigeria. Thus, as Frans Von Der Dunk puts it, “While the NASRDA Act thus established the basic competence of the Agency to issue licenses as well as the general framework for compliance with the major international obligations of Nigeria … it still left more detailed questions in this regard unanswered.”

Consequently, despite the Act’s relatively progressive nature, it is only meant to be a skeleton. It cannot be relied upon for the continued development of the Nigerian space sector. Nigeria can learn from the United States of America, with its wide range of enactments and promulgations dealing with space law, or the efficiently detailed Space Industry Act 2018 of the United Kingdom.

In terms of Private Sector Participation, the licensing system incorporated by the Act is vague and should be no more than a framework for further detailed regulations. Legislations like the Commercial Space Launch Act of the United States of America come to mind. The provisions governing the licensing system is much too insufficient to regulate the intricacies of private participation in the space sector.

Additionally, as aforementioned, the licensing system incorporated by the Act only provides a framework for private participation in satellite remote sensing areas, vesting space operations in other fields solely in the Government, by implication. In the era where Space X is transporting NASA astronauts to and from space, this legal limit requires a cure.

Furthermore, while the Act espouses a determination to enhance its satellite capabilities, there are no specific provisions for the use of satellites by telecommunication companies in the Act or the Telecommunications Act of the country. There are no regulations as to the privacy limitations of Earth Observation satellites. These and many more layers of uncertainties limit the potential benefits to be enjoyed by a robust space law framework in Nigeria.

The 2015 draft regulations on the licensing and supervision of space activities

Perhaps in recognition of the inadequacies of the NASRDA act, merely five years after the Act, work has begun on add-ons to the Act in a bid to ground the NASRDA Act further.  As the name suggests, this regulation seeks to flesh out the licensing regime incorporated in the preceding Act.

The modification of the NASRDA Act’s definition of what constitutes space activities is a chief way the regulation fleshes out the Act’s licensing regime. The Act limits space activities to remote sensing operations; however, the regulation in Section 3 and 43 extends the ambits of space activities to comprise “space objects and their control” and include “the operation, guidance, and re-entry of space objects into, in and from outer space and other activities essential for the launch of, operation, guidance and re-entry of space objects into, in and from outer space”.

The implications of the above are positively immense. By the provisions, PSP shall no longer be limited to remote sensing operations and will accommodate a broader category of activities. Private persons will be able to obtain licenses to engage in space objects related activities such as the launching of satellites and crewed and uncrewed space missions. These activities may seem lofty in relation to Nigeria’s present capabilities; however, it is a common principle that an enabling legal environment is one of the incubating elements of innovation.

The regulation also expands the categories of persons requiring a license. The draft provides that corporations registered in Nigeria in possession of (a) space objects, operators of space objects within Nigerian territory, and manufacturers of space objects would require licenses.

Another aspect where the regulation improves the Act is the mechanism for handling third-party international liabilities. As earlier mentioned, Nigeria would be internationally liable for acts committed by its nationals in space. To this end, the regulation provides – in section 6 – that a (juristic) person under the purview of the regulation shall indemnify (to a sum not exceeding US$15 million) the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria against any claim brought against the Government in respect of damage or loss arising out of activities under the purview of the regulation – that is, space activities as defined in the regulation – carried on by such person.

Furthermore, the draft also mandates licensees to provide insurance (to a sum not exceeding US$5 million) with respect to damages that may trigger the Liability Convention’s application. These provisions are to protect the Federal Government of Nigeria from any liability resulting from the activities of private persons. This is an essential provision because an expansion of local private participation directly links to an increased risk of liability borne by Nigeria, resulting from accidents in engaging in space activities.

Despite the laudable provisions of the 2015 draft regulations, the regulation remains only a draft as at the time of publishing. It is imperative that the law-making process be completed on the Act soonest to provide the Nigerian space scene with much-needed respite. Regardless of the regulation’s present inadequacies concerning its status, it exemplifies, amongst many others, Nigeria’s commitment to the development of its – and Africa’s – space capabilities.


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