Prompted by the Biden administration’s decision to down a Chinese government spy balloon and several additional objects over the weekend, today The Wall Street Journal An interesting article highlights that there is no international consensus, let alone a binding international agreement, governing the use of “near space” – the region 60,000 to 330,000 feet above the ground. Although nations can generally retain control over their atmosphere up to 60,000 feet, and various treaties provide that there are no sovereign claims above 330,000 feet (where satellites orbit), “near space” is not governed by the treaty, nor is it expressly controlled by nations below. subject to. (many to heaven.)
The United States says the suspected Chinese spy balloon violated America’s sovereign airspace on February 4. But when it crosses the United States at an altitude of 65,000 feet, the balloon floats into the murky region where no international consensus exists on what, if any, nation governs. . . .
Countries with advanced space programs, including the United States and China, have blocked efforts to extend the nation’s sovereignty to the edge of space, according to minutes of a meeting of the United Nations body examining the issue. They chose the freedom to ply their own craft without restriction. . . .
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration monitors and controls airspace up to 60,000 feet for commercial and military traffic, a level recognized under international treaties and employed by other countries. The three objects that came down over the weekend over the United States and Canada all fell within that airspace, which extends 12 miles offshore of each country’s internationally recognized maritime limit. . . .
International treaties hold that countries have no sovereignty over the reach of outer space where satellites orbit, typically starting at about 330,000 feet. Although a handful of countries have claimed altitudes between 60,000 feet and that limit, a range often referred to as “closer to”, those claims are not recognized by international law.
The lack of international agreement does not mean that some countries are not starting to make demands. More from the article:
In 2017, New Zealand became the first country to include such height controls in its space laws, requiring users to secure licenses to operate above its territory. New Zealand does not define high altitude. Several other countries have followed suit, including the United Arab Emirates, which has set a limit of around 262,000 feet for high-altitude surveillance. But in those cases, other countries did not accept the UAE’s demands.