(Space) Ships Passing in the Night: Translating Maritime Rules of the Road for the Space Domain

Image of two ancient ships floating through a galaxy.
Published Date


Collisions in space can be incredibly dangerous for space operations, with the resulting debris posing hazards for satellites for months, years, or decades after an incident. As space gets more crowded, the likelihood of collisions is increasing, and many space stakeholders have begun to propose potential norms or rules to prevent collisions. Analogies are a popular source of ideas for what norms could look like. This paper provides a deep dive into one of many possible documents that could be translated to rules of the road for space, one of which being the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs). Although no analogy is perfect, lessons from COLREGs and the maritime domain reveal several possibilities to kick start rules of the road for space.