Space and military law experts from Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have joined forces to take the lead on understanding how our Earth-bound laws will be applied in times of armed conflict in outer space. Some of the best legal and policy minds at the University of Adelaide, UNSW Canberra, University of Exeter, and University of Nebraska College of Law will draft The Woomera Manual on the International Law of Military Space Operations.
The Woomera Manual will become the definitive document on military and security law as it applies to space. The project, set for completion in early 2022, draws on the knowledge and research of dozens of legal and space operations experts from around the world. Diplomatic and military representatives from numerous foreign governments have also already contributed to the project.
The University of Nebraska College of Law is one of the four founding institutions and principal sponsors of the Woomera Manual Project. Professor Jack Beard is a Core Expert and the Editor-in-Chief of the project. Professor Frans von der Dunk also serves as a core expert for the project. The founding leaders of the Woomera Manual are Professor Melissa de Zwart and Professor Dale Stephens (Adelaide), Professor Rob McLaughlin (UNSW Canberra), Professor Michael Schmitt (Exeter), and Beard (Nebraska Law).
"Conflict in outer space is not a case of 'if' but 'when'. However, the legal regime that governs the use of force and actual armed conflict in outer space is currently very unclear, which is why the Woomera Manual is needed," says founding partner Professor Melissa de Zwart, Dean of the Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide.
"The few international Treaties that deal with outer space provide very little regulation of modern space activities, including both military and commercial uses of space. Therefore, we need to cast our gaze more widely in our approach to determining what laws are applicable in space," she says.
Rob McLaughlin, Professor of Military and Security Law at UNSW Canberra, says: "Space is a key enabler for communications, surveillance, early warning, navigation systems and is a critical security and conflict domain.
"Such extensive use of space by military forces has produced a growing awareness that spacebased assets are becoming particularly vulnerable to adverse actions by potential competitors," Professor McLaughlin says.
The US Secretary of the Air Force, Heather Wilson, declared last year that the US must start to prepare for the possibility of armed conflict in outer space.
"We can no longer afford to ignore the legal implications of the military use of space," says Michael Schmitt, Professor of Public International Law at Exeter Law School, University of Exeter.
"The four universities who form the founding partnership of the Woomera Manual project are committed to developing an agreed understanding, and then subsequent articulation, of how international law more generally applies to regulate military space activities in a time of rising tension and even outright armed conflict," he says.
Jack Beard, Associate Professor with the University of Nebraska College of Law, says: "The Woomera Manual will be drafted in the full tradition of other manuals that have been developed by legal and policy experts over the last 20 years, including the San Remo Manual on Naval Warfare, the Harvard Manual on Air and Missile Warfare, and the Tallinn Manuals (1.0 and 2.0) dealing with laws applicable to cyber operations and warfare.” Beard is the co-director of Nebraska’s space, cyber, and telecommunications law program, teaching courses in international cyber security, national security space law and arms control.
"Such manuals have proven to have a significant impact in their respective fields, and we envisage that the Woomera Manual will have the same impact for the military uses of space," Professor Beard says.
The Woomera Manual is named after the Woomera township in South Australia, which has a long association with both Australian and multi-national military space operations. In 1967, Woomera was the site from which Australia successfully launched its first satellite, becoming only the fourth nation in the world to do so. In Australian Indigenous culture, a "woomera" is a traditional spearthrowing device. The name "woomera" originates from the Dharug language of the Eora people.
Media contacts: Elsbeth Magilton, Executive Director of the Space, Cyber, and Telecommunications Law Program, University of Nebraska College of Law, Phone: 402-472-1662, email@example.com