Rosanna Sattler knew from the time that she was eight years old that she was passionately interested in outer space. But unlike other children her age, her dream was never to hop aboard a spacecraft.
“I never thought that I could be an astronaut,” she said. “Later in life, I decided that I wanted to try to merge my passion with my abilities as a lawyer. I wanted to see if I could move the needle a little bit on issues concerning the industry.”
That “industry” was in its infancy in 1997, when Sattler decided to apply her expertise in commercial litigation, insurance law and risk management to the final frontier. Commercial space flights were a dream just barely beginning to come to fruition, and Sattler was involved in lobbying efforts to ensure that NASA was not the primary entity involved in space travel.
“I was not really terribly interested in the mature industry of satellites or communications, I was more interested in what private entrepreneurs and companies were doing. Sometimes that involves working with NASA, but I was not necessarily interested in what the government itself was doing. To me, it has always been about recognizing that space is a place and not a government program,” she said.
And just like other places, there are laws that govern space. An outer space treaty signed by 88 nations, most of which have never launched a spacecraft, is the primary document that outlines what is or is not permissible once people and objects are launched into space from the Earth. It states that each nation is responsible for space activities and objects that originated there, regardless of whether a government or a private company initiated it.
But increasingly complex innovations give rise to new legal questions.
“I am very interested in space law policy. I have done a lot of work regarding property rights in space – not intellectual property, but actual property rights. If we land on the moon, or land on Mars, or lasso an asteroid to have it orbit the moon, how can we do that? What are the laws? These types of activities do not have to be dealt with here on Earth. However, most property rights on Earth are subject to a mature, legal regime, “she said.
At Posternak, Blankstein & Lund, where Sattler is a partner and Executive Committee Member, the Space Law Department also represents clients in cases more typically associated with business – insurance, employment matters and contract disputes, to name a few.
During Sattler’s career, she has represented companies working to improve the propulsion mechanisms for satellites and building spaceports (like an airport, she explains, but for space travel). She has counseled a spacesuit manufacturing company on liability and insurance issues. She is the Chair of the Board of Directors for the CompTIA Space Enterprise Council in Washington, D.C. CompTIA is a non-profit trade association, the goal of which is to advance the interests of Information Technology professionals. The Space Enterprise Council was founded in 2000 to represent businesses with an interest in commercial, civil and national security space.
“We have gone from these conceptual ideas that traditional aerospace professionals never thought were going to happen, to an industry where SpaceX is flying a commercial vehicle in lieu of the space shuttle to the International Space Station,” she said. “What goes along with that are a lot of issues that have never been legally tested before because we have never had an occasion.”
Currently, she said, companies are conducting medical and scientific research on the space station which is an international laboratory. Other private ventures have launched objects in space to search for water on asteroids, in hopes that they could convert them into hydrogen fuel stations. If vessels could refuel in space, she explains, they could travel much farther out. Another company is working on developing an inflatable structure that could eventually be inhabited by people.
“I think we need to explore farther out into the solar system and beyond. I guess it is manifest destiny,” she said.