Women in Science: Mahulena Hofmann, SES Chair in Satellite Communications and Media Law

 

January 2017

In early 2017, a small exhibition in Luxembourg City highlighted a selection of ‘WiSE – Women in Science and Engineering’. Here we introduce featured scientist Professor Mahulena Hofmann, SES Chair in Satellite Communications and Media Law at the University of Luxembourg.

Most people may be unaware that Luxembourg is one of the biggest space nations in the world. The Grand Duchy is the seat of the Société Européene des Satellites (SES) with its 50 plus geostationary Satellites.

Mahulena Hofmann’s scientific background covers all aspects of Satellite Communication and Media Law (International, European and comparative). She came to Luxembourg in 2011 to take up the role as Professor at the Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance and University of Luxembourg, as well as that of SES Chair in Satellite Communications and Media Law.

Before her appointment in Luxembourg, Czech and German national Hofmann held the Jean Monnet Chair in European Law and Transition Studies at the Justus Liebig University Giessen, while simultaneously serving as Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg.

Professor Hofmann has authored, co-authored and/or edited several books and more than 100 articles. She received FNR funding from the FNR’s programme RESCOM Scientific Monographs, to publish her monograph ‘Harmful Interference in Regulatory Perspective’ in 2015. The publication was the outcome of research on the topic of regulatory framework of radio communication, in particular space communication. It is an important contribution to the international discussion on the topic and serves as a textbook at universities.

What would happen if an astronaut murdered someone in space?

Astronauts cannot do whatever they want in space – even space has clear rules. Imagine if an astronaut purposely hurt or even killed a fellow astronaut. If this scenario happened on earth, the astronaut would be held accountable for the crime in the country where it happened.

But if it happened in an international space station, some 400 Kilometres up in space, what would happen then?

“In space, a crime is treated with the same laws as on earth”, Mahulena Hoffman explains. In the case of an international space station, which consists of several modules, the exact location of the crime would also be relevant. Depending on module’s country of origin, prosecution would take place in that country – unless the member countries of the space station have an agreement in place to handle it in another way.

How space laws came into existence and what remains to be clarified

“Normally territories are under national sovereignty, but there are of course areas where such a division would be silly, and therefore where laws have been agreed that are applicable to all of humanity”, explains Prof Hofmann. A start was made on the open ocean, known as ‘international waters’.

In the 50s certain states, led by the USA and Soviet Union, agreed on the creation of a space law. This law is applicable the part of space that begins 100 kilometres above earth.

Several contracts were made, stating for example that no nation can lay claim to any parts of space; that earth shall not be used to store nuclear weapons; and that astronauts regardless of their nationality – would not be treated as spies but as ambassadors of the world. Hofmann finds it particularly astonishing that these agreements and laws happened at the height of the Cold War.

One part of space law that still needs to be clarified is that surrounding space debris. This for example includes the questions what happens to space debris, and who is responsible if space debris causes any incidents. Hofmann explains that this in principle is covered by the ‘polluter pays principle’ – just like on earth. However, the current regulations surrounding the disposal of space debris are more of ‘recommendation’ character than of binding nature.

WiSE Women – Women in Science and Engineering in Luxembourg

Find out more about the WiSE Women exhibition (Luxembourg City)

Professor Mahulena Hofmann's scientific background covers all aspects of Satellite Communication and Media Law (International, European and comparative)

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