The following information is provided for information purposes only. Only the legislative and regulatory texts in force are authentic.
Belgium adopted specific legislation for operational space activities in 2005 (the Law of 17 September 2005 concerning activities relating to the launch, flight operations or guidance of space objects). This law was the first of a new wave of legislation enacted following the initial wave of historic laws (United States, Russia, India, United Kingdom, Sweden, etc.) and before the laws of several European states (France, Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Finland, etc.).
The 2005 law was revised in 2013 to take into account the special case of non-manoeuvrable objects in orbit. In such cases, the law identifies the operator as the person who entered into the contract under which the object is launched in accordance with the orbital parameters determined.
In 2008, the King enacted a Royal Decree implementing certain provisions of the Law of 17 September 2005 concerning activities relating to the launch, flight operations or guidance of space objects). That decree was replaced by a decree dated 15 March 2022, which entered into force on 12 May 2022.
Belgium is often called the largest of Europe's minor space powers. With an annual public investment of 250 million euros in space research and development through European or international cooperation, Belgium has "taken off on board the star ship ESA" since the early 1960s. As a founding member of the European Space Agency and its predecessors (ESRO, ELDO), as well as other organisations such as EUMETSAT, Belgium has continuously invested in cooperative research and development now for several decades. That investment has enabled it to achieve the industrial capacity to design and develop small satellites, as in the case of the PROBA-1, launched in 2001, its successors, PROBA-2 (2009) and PROBA-V (2013) and the PROBA-3 (scheduled for 2023). Even though the design and manufacture of these satellites were placed under Belgian control, the associated missions remain ESA missions.
With the growth of European institutional space programmes, the number of organisations, public or private, likely to undertake activities included within the scope of the law has multiplied.
In 2014, Belgium had its first national activity conducted by a non-governmental organisation. Between 2014 and 2020, six activities were authorised and 36 objects were registered in accordance with Belgian space law. And it's not over yet: new activities are being prepared...
The Space Law allows Belgium to uphold its commitments under the five United Nations treaties on outer space, to which it is a party. Moreover, the Law itself forms the tool with which international standards or recommendations are implemented. These include the resolutions and guidelines issued by the United Nations, which respond to the need to regulate space activities and their development. From this perspective, Belgium has chosen not to issue its own standards, but to align itself with the standards and references recognised on a European and international level.
The NewSpace phenomenon is evident in Belgium with the emergence of new players exploiting cutting-edge technologies and offering flexible solutions at lower cost.
BELSPO has integrated this vital force into its policy of support for space R&D, in particular by participating in framework programmes designed to serve as an incubator for small missions and new industrial players.
The same has been true for the regulation of space activities since 2005. The Belgian Space Law, completed by its implementing Royal Decree, therefore provides a framework that is conducive to the reception and development of small and medium-sized enterprises, in the form of:
The system provided by the Belgian Space Law also allows a customised approach to be adopted to each activity and its specificities, while guaranteeing equal treatment for the operators and adherence to internationally recognised standards. This system has proven to be effective in enabling the authorisation and supervision of a variety of activities, sometimes carried out on a national level and sometimes within the framework of extensive international cooperation. The system itself has stood out by virtue of its flexibility and responsiveness to the specific needs of each operator, while guaranteeing a level of security and quality that meets international standards.
The Belgian Space Law, completed by its implementing decree, responds to current concerns and issues:
What things are changing as a result of the Royal Decree of 2022?
(1) The role of BELSPO
The decree specifies the role of BELSPO in the implementation of the procedure and in the preparation of the file for the member of the Government in charge of issuing the authorisation. The previous system enabling the relevant member of the government to call on a committee of experts was abandoned. That ability had never been activated and had proved to be rather cumbersome to set up.
BELSPO's mission in the implementation of the 2005 law and the 2022 Royal Decree is distinct from that of managing public support for space research in an international context. The fact that BELSPO allocates funding, directly or indirectly, to an activity therefore does not necessarily imply that this activity will be authorised by the competent member of government when it reaches its operational phase.
(2) Technical expertise (ESA)
Technical expertise support is provided as part of the processing of the file. A competent member of the government was already able to request such support from a Belgian, foreign (e.g. national space agency) or international institution (such as the ESA), on the basis of the file submitted by the applicant. On a practical level, BELSPO and the ESA have concluded an agreement on the provision of this expertise at the request of the competent Government member.
As a result of the latest decree, calling for support in the form of technical expertise becomes mandatory for "class U" objects, i.e. cubesats. Since the cost of this expertise is to be borne by the applicant, the decree states that the applicant will receive an estimate of this cost and that he may, if he deems it preferable, withdraw his application without charge.
However, this obligation to use technical expertise support does not apply:
(3) Transfer of registration
The law of 2005 already included provisions permitting a transfer of activity in orbit, but only from the point of view of authorisation and supervision. An important new feature of the Royal Decree of 2022 is the possibility to carry out an active or passive transfer of registration between Belgium and another State from which the object is launched. Such a transfer can be made on the basis of an international agreement or following a transfer of activity in orbit.
Active transfer, i.e. when Belgium has registered an object that is to be registered by another State, requires that this other State is itself the launching State of the object within the meaning of the United Nations Convention of 14 January 1975 on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space. This transfer takes the form of an arrangement with the competent authorities of the State taking over the registration of the object, accompanied by a deletion of the registration of the object from the Belgian register of space objects.
Passive transfer, i.e. when Belgium has registered an object that already registered by another State, requires that Belgium is the launching State of the object within the meaning of the United Nations Convention of 14 January 1975 on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space. It is also necessary for the State that originally registered the object to undertake to delete the registration of that object from its register. In addition, whenever the activity involving the object is being carried out by a non-governmental entity, the activity must meet one of the criteria set out in Article 5, §2, of the Royal Decree.
It is important to distinguish between a transfer of registration, transfer of activity and transfer of ownership. These are three separate operations, although they may be related.
(4) The sustainable and rational use of space resources
The Royal Decree of 2022 also specifies the content of the initial impact study to be carried out and submitted by the applicant. The third part of this study integrates the measures taken to ensure the sustainable and rational use of the natural resources of the space environment.
(5) The registration of objects launched by private companies
The registration of a space object serves a dual purpose:
Until the entry into force of the Royal Decree of 2022, there was no legal basis for Belgium to register an object launched by order of a Belgian non-governmental entity. Given that the majority of objects launched benefited from a public (co)financing, it was considered that the Belgian State had participated at least implicitly in the order to launch object and that this therefore made it possible for the object to be entered in the National Register of Space Objects. However, this practice was reaching its limits, given the emergence of activities entirely funded by industry.
The King has therefore defined three alternative criteria to identify objects launched by order of Belgian non-governmental entities and whose registration is the responsibility of the Belgian State. Those are:
It is also provided that, in accordance with the above-mentioned United Nations Convention of 1975, the Belgian Government may enter into agreements or arrangements with another State in which the object is launched, stipulating that this other State shall be responsible for registering the object in accordance with the said Convention.
(6) The protection of personal data
Following the entry into force of the European regulation for the protection of personal data (GDPR), the King has amended the rules for the processing of information and personal data in the context of the procedures for authorisation and registration.
Although it is still necessary to collect individual data on natural persons, in particular to ensure the qualification of the persons involved in the activity, these data are no longer included in the version of the file that is published online. This corresponds to a practice already adopted by BELSPO in connection with files prior to the entry into force of the Royal Decree of 2022.
BELSPO's retention of personal data is limited in time, depending on the duration of the object's presence in earth orbit. Once any risk related to its presence in orbit, its re-entry into the atmosphere or of it falling to earth disappears, the personal data relating to the activity are erased.
It should be noted that the collection of data on individuals under the 2005 law is, in fact, limited.
(7) Alert system
The Law entrusts the King with the task of designating the crisis centre in charge of managing situations arising from a malfunction of an object operated under Belgian responsibility. Since 2008, this task has been entrusted to the National Crisis Centre (FPS Interior) (This type of situation is to be distinguished from a situation involving foreign space objects that threaten to crash on Belgian territory).
In the event that a space object under the responsibility of Belgium suffered a malfunction that would affect its operation in orbit and that would generate a risk of collision with other space objects or of it falling back to the earth's surface, the National Crisis Centre shall, without delay, communicate the information and data received to the competent member of the Government as well as to BELSPO and shall coordinate with the authorities in other countries and the competent international bodies in order to prevent any damage.
First of all, it is essential to integrate the contingencies related to the authorisation from the very start of the project. As such, it is necessary to take account of:
After that, you can:
Further information on the law, the Royal Decree and their implementation can be requested from
+32 (0)2 238 35 17
Strictly by way of information and explanation and without prejudice to the normative definitions given by the law or by the applicable regulations, the following definitions shall apply:
Activity: set of acts and interventions performed under the authority of a person to ensure the flight in space of one or more objects.
Authorisation: a ministerial decree, issued on the basis of the 2005 law, granting the holder the right to carry out a specific activity in accordance with the law and, where applicable, with conditions imposed by the King or by the competent member of the Government. The authorisation may be suspended or withdrawn in the cases provided for by law. The authorisation may cover several objects and even several launches for the same purpose.
Effective control: the exercising of ultimate decision-making authority over the activity. Effective control does not necessarily imply the capacity to activate the technical means of operation of the object in space. In the case of a non-manoeuvrable object once it has been placed on station, effective control is deemed to be exercised by the person who has voluntarily determined the orbital parameters of the object and who has entered into the launch service contract on that basis.
Appropriate state / Launching state / Registration state: It is necessary to draw a distinction between these three notions.
Launching state: The launching state is any state that meets at least one of the following criteria:
Appropriate state: The appropriate State is the one responsible for the authorisation and ongoing supervision of the activity. The designation of "Appropriate state" is therefore linked to the activity (by the place where it is carried out or by the nationality of the person carrying it out), not to the object.
State of registration: the State of registration of the object shall in all cases be the State of launch of the object or, in cases in which there are several States of launch of the object, one of those States as determined by common agreement between them. The State of registration is the one that exercises jurisdiction and control over the object. It is possible that the state of registration is different from the appropriate state.
Space object: any manufactured device launched or intended to be launched into an earth orbit or beyond. By extension, any spacecraft launching a space object is itself a space object.
Registration: the registration of an object in the National Register of Space Objects by assigning it a designator and indicating the data associated with the object (owner, radio frequencies, mission, etc.). The effect of registration is to subject the object to the jurisdiction and control of the Belgian State. The initiative for registration lies with the competent member of the Government.
Notification of registration: communication by BELSPO to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) of the registration of an object by Belgium. The registration is then included in the International Register of Space Objects. The object receives an international designator in accordance with the COSPAR standards.
United Nations General Assembly Resolutions: these resolutions are politically binding on the governments of the member states that have adopted them, but are not legally binding. In the field of space, several UNGA resolutions have been adopted in connection with the principles of international cooperation in specific areas (the notification of space activities – 1961, the exploration and use of space – 1963, satellite television – 1982, remote sensing – 1986, nuclear power sources – 1992 and benefits of the use of space – 1996). Other resolutions have made recommendations on specific issues (the use of geostationary orbit – 2000, the concept of launch state – 2004, registration practices – 2007 and national space laws – 2013). In addition to these ad hoc resolutions, principles, recommendations and guidelines have also been adopted at the level of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly (space debris – 2007, nuclear power sources – 2009 and the long-term sustainability of space activities – 2020)
International liability for damage: obligation of international law which is imposed on the States to repair the damage caused by a space object of which they are the launching State.
We can distinguish between two types of case:
International liability for damage is therefore only attributable to a State by another State. Individual victims of the damage must apply to their government to activate this reparation mechanism, if it deems it appropriate. The 2005 law includes a provision permitting the Belgian State to have recourse against the operator in the event that the Belgian State is obliged to repair damage caused by the object of the operator. That recourse is capped as to its amount (10% of the operator's annual turnover or budget), unless it is demonstrated that the operator has not complied with the conditions applicable to the authorisation granted to it or that it has acted without authorisation.
The damage taken into account will be any physical injury or material damage caused by the impact of the object on another object, property or person.
United Nations Treaties on Outer Space: treaties adopted in a United Nations context and governing the activities of States in outer space. These consist of five treaties concluded between 1967 and 1979. Belgium is a signatory to all five: