Mapping the Ratification Status of the 1974 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space

Noah Chang, Natalia Jamiolkowski & Liv Martin

In this post, we explore the ratification status of the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space. This treaty was drafted by the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) and adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on November 12, 1974, and it came into force on September 15, 1976, in accordance with the rules set in the treaty’s Article VIII(3). 

This convention is the fourth of the five treaties drafted by UNCOPUOS to regulate outer space. Its main purpose is to authorize the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) to establish a registry of all space objects. By requiring states to register their objects, the convention does not only allow states to monitor these objects, but it can also help states claim liability if one of these objects damages their space objects or if they were to crash into their territories from outer space. 

To better understand which states have ratified these instruments, we created a choropleth map, using the ggplot2 package for R. Using data from the UN Treaty Collection’s webpage, we classify states into three distinct categories. First, states that have not ratified or signed one of the instruments are cataloged as having taken “no action”. Second, “signatory state” applies to states which have not ratified the instrument but have only signed it. Third, a “state party” is classified as a state that has ratified the treaty or acceded to its rules. 

The map demonstrates that a majority of UN member states have both signed and ratified the treaty.  Both the United States and the Soviet Union ( today’s Russia)  ratified this instrument committing to the peaceful exploration of outer space. Even though many state parties have not developed their own spacecraft and spaceflight capacities, many of these countries may have joined this regime out of fear that space debris stemming from broken-down satellites, rocket boosters, or other objects could crash in their territories and lead to property damage or the loss of life. 

The map also shows that a majority of African states have not signed or ratified this convention. This could be because many of these states lack the technical or financial capacity to send objects into space. If this is the case, it explains why Algeria, South Africa, and Nigeria, which have successfully launched satellites into space, have ratified this instrument.

In conclusion, we argue that the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space is a key part of the UN’s efforts to regulate the use and the peaceful exploration of outer space. Requiring states to register their space objects is one way to ensure their accountability to other states. 

Want to learn more about this legal instrument?

Data on this convention’s ratification status is available on the World Politics Data Lab’s GitHub page. The most recent dataset was uploaded to the repository on October 25, 2022.

For more information on the convention’s history and for its current application, please refer to the following academic writings:

About the authors:

Noah Chang is a Political Science major, with a minor in International Relations at Drew University. 

Natalia Jamiolkowski is a Political Science major, with minors in Data Science and Sociology at Drew University.

Liv Martin is a History major, with a minor in Political Science and Women and Gender Studies at Drew University. 

Editor’s note: This post is part of a long-term project. Students enrolled in Drew University’s Semester on the United Nations, Principles in International Law and International Human Rights have been and will be collecting data on the ratification status of treaties deposited in the United Nations Treaty Collection. For more information on this project and its learning goals, click here.

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