J.S.D Space Law

The Doctor of the Science of Law at Nebraska Law is a doctoral degree for students wanting to do advanced research in Space Law and to produce a book-length thesis on a Space Law topic. This program breaks new ground as the only doctoral-level space law program in the United States. The University of Nebraska College of law is the only law school in the United States offering this degree.

Students in Space Law

Research-focused and dissertation-based, the J.S.D. program requires students to write a book-length thesis about an aspect of space law. The degree broadens opportunities for experienced lawyers and legal scholars to delve into the very intricate and complex issues facing the regulation of outer space activities in an in-depth manner. The expectation of the program is that upon completion, the dissertation will be published as a book.

There is no classroom curriculum for this program, either in-residence or on-line. The sole substance of the program is writing a dissertation, a publishable book-size manuscript under faculty supervision. The only requirements of physical presence at Nebraska Law are  upon admission to the JSD program, to arrange for all further administrative details and meeting a few key people, and a week or two at the very end, namely for the purpose of the defense of the dissertation. In between, essentially based upon the synopsis and provisional table of contents (acceptance of which is a condition for admission), the candidate will send in draft chapters, receive faculty comments, incorporate them into next drafts and go on to the next chapters, until finally a full-fledged manuscript may be accepted for defense.

Application Requirements

Applicants must submit a detailed and specific research proposal and obtain the agreement of a member of the space, cyber, and telecommunications law faculty (most likely Professor von der Dunk) to review and potentially supervise the doctoral dissertation prior to applying. Proposals should be 3 to 6 pages long with a one-page table of contents. It should describe the precise issue to be addressed, the importance of that issue, and the relevant laws to be discussed. 

The Applicant must hold a JD or LL.M. from an ABA-accredited American Law School; a PhD on a related subject; or a comparable Master of Laws or LL.M. degree from an international institution. The Applicant must submit certified transcripts verifying these degrees. Waiver of this requirement will be possible but very rare.

A proven expertise and/or educational background in Space Law (for example, professional positions, LL.M., specialization in a J.D. program, publications on space law in reputable journals, participation in a reputable space law moot court, etc.) presented via resume or curriculum vitae.

2 Letters of Recommendation from individuals who are familiar with the Applicant’s academic work and potential to succeed in the program. The letters of recommendation must be written in English.

Applicants from non-English speaking countries must submit a TOEFL score of 100 internet-based or 250 computer-based or 600-603 paper-based.

Applicants must apply through the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) online J.S.D application.

Applicants must pay a $50 Processing Fee

Apply by creating an account at LSAC.org and selecting the application for the correct program. 


We are always accepting applications. However, for international students, due to visa timetables, we can not guarantee a fall semester start if an application is not received by March 15.


Professor Frans von der Dunk, the Harvey & Susan Perlman Alumni and Othmer Professor of Law, will supervise most of the J.S.D. students.

Professor Matthew Schaefer, Law Alumni Professor of Law, and Director of the Space, Cyber, and Telecommunications Program, may also supervise students and provide support, along with Professor Jack Beard.


J.S.D. students pay a total of $30,000 for tuition and fees. This cost is spread out over the first four semesters, although students may take six semesters to complete the program without penalty.

International and Distance

The J.S.D. program is open to international and distance students. The program may be completed remotely. Nonresident students are required to visit the Law College during the first month of their starting semester for a minimum of one week. Students will return to Nebraska Law at the end of their program for their Dissertation Defense.

Students from a non-English speaking country must submit a TOEFL score of at least 100 internet based, 250 computer based, and 600-603 paper based.


Elsbeth Magilton

Elsbeth Magilton Executive Director of Space, Cyber, and Telecommunications Law Programs

Elsbeth Magilton is the Executive Director of the Space, Cyber, and Telecommunications law programs at the University of Nebraska College of Law where she oversees program development and research. Her current focus areas include commercial space law and policy, cybersecurity, and national security. Elsbeth is the law college’s principal researcher for projects serving the U.S. Strategic Command’s University Affiliated Research Center – the only such center in the Depart of Defense to include a law school in their research partnerships.

Read more about Elsbeth Magilton