Two nations, a terrible accident, and an urgent need to understand the laws of space


Representing Xenovia, the Leiden team took full responsibility for the explosion, but said their client took back Candida's satellite in accordance with the Outer Space Treaty. After giving notice of the Canadian company being late in payment, he argued, the Xenovian creditor had met the treaty requirement for “appropriate international consultation”.

Katsande felt as if she was hearing a rough version of her own winning argument thrown at her. After about 15 minutes of deliberations, the panel of three judges gave their decision: they found in favor of Xenovia, which meant that Leiden had won. Katsande felt that the European team was given more time to speak. But he also thought, “We chose the wrong side.”

Once the competition ended for the Midlands team, Coach Moyo took the group to McDonald's. The students then went on to give a presentation about ZIMSAT-1. The coach, who was constantly making basketball analogies throughout the trip, remembered a quote from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: “You can't win until you learn to lose.”

Still, the team had come incredibly far from the days when they were indifferent to competition and indifferent to space. “We really wanted to win,” Katsande told me. “I don't think you understand how much we wanted to win.”

at 3 o'clock On 20 September, the Midlands team entered the Maison des Oceans, a building built over a century ago to house ocean conservation organisations, to watch the final round of the 2022 Manfred Lachs Competition. They found their place in a 500-person amphitheater with ocean-blue seats surrounded by depictions of whale hunting. Arguing Xenovia's case once again, the Leiden team was successful in winning the world championship.

Also there that day was Edith Weeks, an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who believes that, as a black woman, she was called by God to study and teach space law. He remembers attending space law meetings in the early 2000s when almost everyone there was a European person.

Around the same time, Weeks wrote a PhD dissertation tracing the origins of the “province of mankind” clause of the Outer Space Treaty – how it came to be a somewhat nebulous, conveniently undefined option for legal language. acts that may place more clear limits and obligations on its signatories. Weeks says space law has a beautiful set of origins and aspirations, but there are ways in which moneyed interests can take advantage of that ambiguity to crowd out low Earth orbit.

Most of all, though, Weeks's work in space law has taught him that people can't appreciate something – let alone fight for it – if they don't know it's theirs.

Midlands students, if nothing else, had heard that message loud and clear. Mujegu says that to be African is to be affected by colonialism – but it is also to be the rightful inheritor of the space. When Muzegu started law school, she wanted to enter general private practice after graduation. But if she were given the chance to practice space law, she would “take advantage of that opportunity and be done with it,” she says.

Muzegu's opportunity may not come immediately. There are still barely any jobs in space law on the continent, as many African space agencies are just closing down. But off the ground, in the relatively near future, that's exactly where they're going. “This is a whole new world that I didn't know existed,” Muzegu says. “When I discovered it, I was like, Why aren't more people talking about this?, I want to be a part of this for the rest of my life.

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