Subject and Keywords:
The number of artificial space objects has increased exponentially since the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957. Geocentric orbits have been occupied not only by operational space devices but also by a significant population of space debris. Consequently, the congestion of outer space has reached unprecedented levels. However, the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects was elaborated on the premise that the likelihood of a collision between human-made space objects was virtually nil in outer space. Therefore, the convention stipulates that a launching State shall bear international liability for damage inflicted in outer space only provided that the fault is attributable to the State or the persons for whom the State is responsible. Interestingly, however, the spacefaring States have consistently abstained from resorting to the provisions of the convention notwithstanding the documented cases of loss of or damage to space objects in the aftermath of collisions. As a result, the convention could be deemed to have fallen into desuetude by virtue of prolonged non-enforcement. However, the analysis of the notion of desuetude in international law does not permit the conclusion that the convention shall be regarded as null and void. Conversely, such considerations as the lack of a definition of fault in outer space or the soft law character of the regulations pertaining to space debris mitigation and removal represent more plausible explanations for the absence of formal claims based on the convention. Accordingly, the prior passive conduct of States with respect to liability would not preclude future demands for compensation for damage sustained in outer space.