The Role of Norms and Best Practices in Commercial Rendezvous and Proximity Operations (RPO) and On-Orbit Satellite Servicing (OOS) Open Access
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The modern space economy is organized and facilitated by a complex array of international treaties and principles, domestic legislation and initiatives, governmental and corporate policies and traditions, and the particulars of party-to-party cooperative agreements, memoranda of understanding, and contracts. Despite the diversification in range and number of commercial actors in space activities in the last two decades, overall, space law has been characterized by this insufficiency of legally binding written rules. United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) operates on a basis of full consensus. As a result, the international treaties and principles of space governance contain legally vague language, so as to make unilateral consensus more plausible. They empower member States to pursue their own interpretations of their obligations to suit their domestic market, falling short of explicitly defining key terms. Consequently, the activities of potential commercial providers of on-orbit satellite Servicing (OOS) activities are dominated by the domestic regulatory framework and oversight of their respective nations, which are in turn highly dependent on "norms" and "best practices" that constitute non-legal industry standards. Commercial providers of Rendezvous and Proximity Operations (RPO)-enabled OOS act as major players contributing to and directly influencing "best practice" standards of operation. Forums such as the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS) provide a venue for developers, operators, investors, customers, government policymakers, and insurers to convene and engage in a norm-building process, fostering Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures (TCBMs) and working towards a collective set of industry standards that still protect commercial participants' financial and strategic interests.