The day after graduating from law school, Tanja Masson-Zwaan started her job at the newly founded International Institute of Air and Space Law at Leiden University. She subsequently spent a few years as consultant and in other capacities before returning to that same institute as assistant professor and deputy director. For twenty-five years, she was a board member of the International Institute of Space Law.
“Space is of enormous strategic value. Having rules in space therefore is to everyone’s advantage”, she says. “Developments in space travel are evolving quickly, especially with the ongoing commercialisation. I consider it a privilege to help establish a safe, sustainable and clear legal framework for this dynamic and interesting field.”
Space traffic management
As a member of a large European research consortium, space traffic management is a topic currently taking up much of her time. “It’s not only about space debris and collisions. The tens of thousands of small satellites launched by commercial companies can be a nuisance when it comes to astronomical observations from earth, such as those carried out by the Leiden Observatory, our sister institute.” Recently, the International Institute of Air and Space Law hosted a working group on the governance of space resources, such as water on the moon. “The main priorities in The Netherlands pertain to developing instrumentation for space research. But we should also be supportive of private commercial activities, such as a student project to build a small rover and land it on the moon.”
According to Masson-Zwaan, space law plays an important role in guiding, securing and promoting innovation as a clear legal framework provides reassurance to companies. “Now more than ever, companies and start-ups scrutinise the applicable laws and rules of a country prior to deciding on an investment.” She expects the LDE Space for Science and Society programme to foster connections between scientists and students of various disciplines, as related to both education and entrepreneurship. “These young people are eager to found new companies. Having good contacts and knowledge of all aspects involved – legal, technical and entrepreneurial – is very useful when that time comes.”
For Masson-Zwaan, the Space for Science and Society is a programme with international appeal. “It unites three universities, each having unique qualities. Our advanced master in Air and Space Law is almost without equal and the Leiden astronomers are world famous. Likewise, TU Delft has a very high standing in space technology and engineering. That also holds for the Rotterdam School of Management and entrepreneurship. I think this programme has the qualities needed to leave an international mark.”