Space governance
How can the use of outer space be safe, sustainable and contribute to a flourishing future?

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This profile is tailored towards students studying economics, history, law, physics and political science, however we expect there to be valuable open research questions that could be pursued by students in other disciplines. 

Why is this a pressing problem?

Space launches are getting significantly cheaper and have become considerably more frequent over the last decade, from 129 in 2011 to 1807 in 2022. The increasing accessibility of outer space raises questions about how to use space sustainably and safely. Issues such the accumulation of debris in space – which threatens critical infrastructure such as satellites – and the development of anti-satellite weapons – which increase the likelihood of conflict – are examples of key issues that need to be addressed. Competition over space resources and valuable regions of celestial bodies may also lead to tensions and increased inequalities, and undermine the coordination needed to solve other global problems.

More speculatively, interstellar space colonisation may one day be possible, meaning that the vast majority of our descendants might live beyond this solar system. It could be too soon for research done now to influence how space settlements are ultimately governed, but the stakes are very high given the huge number of individuals who could exist in the future, so exploratory research could be very valuable. It’s also possible that the development of artificial general intelligence will result in space being settled much sooner than we would otherwise expect, so research on how AI may transform the trajectory of space settlement and how we can manage its implications could be important.

There is a ‘Summit of the Future’ conference planned by the UN (to be held in 2024) which will bring together ‘governments and other leading space actors’ to ‘seek high-level political agreement on the peaceful, secure and sustainable use of outer space.’ The organisers may announce a call for proposals before the conference, so this may be a particularly impactful time to do research on this direction.

See the presentation below for an introduction to this area and an exploration of how international policies and agreements could be adapted in light of emerging uses of space.


Explore existing research

Papers from researchers connected with the Outer Space Institute and other sources for learning more about this area are collected here.

See this list of academic papers and legal texts from the Space Futures Initiative for further reading.

The Space Futures Initiative has compiled a list of books here.

Organisations focused primarily on space governance:

Organisations whose work includes some research on space governance:

Find a thesis topic

If you’re interested in working on this research direction, below are some ideas on what would be valuable to explore further. If you want help refining your research ideas, apply for our coaching!

  • ‘What could the medium- and long-run economics of space look like? For instance, roughly when should we actually expect asteroid mining to become profitable? When could an off-Earth settlement become economically self-sustaining?’ (80000 Hours)
  • ‘What economic mechanisms (e.g. auction or sharing) would be best for allocating space in low-Earth orbit when it becomes much more valuable and crowded? (Potentially relevant analogies include deep-sea mining and sharing arrangements for long-range electromagnetic waves used by satellites.’ (80000 Hours)

See the Space Futures Initiative’s research agenda for additional questions.

See the Space Futures Initiative’s research agenda for additional questions.

  • ‘Sharing the benefits of space-related technology and space resource activities: In the long-term, the possibility of acquiring resources from space might severely harm the economies of developing countries currently exporting those products. What should be the legal status of space resources, how should ownership rights be applied to extra-terrestrial resources, and how can the benefits of resources be shared?’ (Legal Priorities Project)
  • ‘How could monopolies lead to catastrophic risks associated with power asymmetries? To what extent should there be antitrust laws and other measures to prevent monopolies in outer space?’ (Space Futures Initiative)
  • ‘How should the right to use valuable locations on the surface of celestial bodies, such as the Lunar south pole, be decided?’ (Space Futures Initiative)

See the Space Futures Initiative’s research agenda and the Legal Priorities Project’s research agenda for additional questions.

  • ‘How plausible is a rapid settlement scenario like the one described here, in which space is settled by self-replicating probes that are launched from Earth in a relatively brief period of time (i.e. less than 50 years)? How much more or less likely is this scenario than a gradual process?’ (80000 Hours)
  • ‘How much debris in low-Earth orbit is actually unsustainable (i.e. making it at least more than five times more expensive to access space for at least a century)?’ (80000 Hours)

See the Space Futures Initiative’s research agenda for additional questions.

  • ‘Regulating the use of weapons in outer spaceCurrent international laws provide insufficient regulations to prevent an arms race in outer space. It could be useful to explore the viability of potential solutions, such as confidence-building and security-building measures, politically binding codes of conduct, and international prohibitions of weapons in space, as well as exploring how projects such as the Woomera Manual and MILAMOS project can best contribute to the long-term peace of space exploration.’ (Legal Priorities Project)
  • ‘If the process of settling space involves establishing new political entities like nations, what would be the best way to organise them? Should they be founded with constitutions, and if so, what should those constitutions include?’ (80000 Hours)
  • ‘Should we be worried about a regulatory ‘race to the bottom,’ where countries compete to be the most favourable places to register private space companies and spacecraft? (Similar to the phenomenon of flags of convenience.)’ (80000 Hours)
  • ‘To what extent can we apply polycentric governance to outer space? What concrete measures could be taken to promote polycentric governance?’ (Space Futures Initiative)

See the Space Futures Initiative’s research agenda for additional questions.

Further resources

If you’re interested in working on this research direction, apply for our coaching and we can connect you with researchers already working in this space, who can help you refine your research ideas.

Apply for our database of potential supervisors if you’re looking for formal supervision and take a look at our advice on finding a great supervisor for further ideas.

The Space Futures Initiative may also be able to introduce you to mentors and collaborators if you’re interested in this research direction.



  • Our funding database can help you find potential sources of funding if you’re a PhD student interested in this research direction.
  • The Space Futures Initiative offers stipends to students who want to do a research project on this research direction.

Sign up for our newsletter to hear about opportunities such as funding, internships and research roles.

If you’re interested in working on improving international cooperation on the use of outer space, see our profile on great power coordination.

If you want to explore how the development of AI may affect the trajectory of space settlement, our profile on the governance of artificial intelligence may also be relevant. 


This profile was last updated 29/09/2022. Thanks to Carson Ezell for helpful feedback on this profile. All mistakes remain our own.

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