Summer 2018 Part Two: Space Law and Space Lasers

Last week, I talked about the first half of my summer and my internship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Now I’m going to talk about the second half of my summer and my internship at Analytical Space, Inc. First, though, I’m going to back up and tell you about space law.

 

Since my post a few months ago about why I want to go into space law, a lot of you have asked me what exactly space law is. Lucky for you, I was expecting this response, and I did in fact promise a post about this. So here is my quick and dirty—dare I say nebulous?—explanation of space law. (All space puns are 100% intended.)

 

When I say space law is nebulous, I mean two things. One, it’s kind of fuzzy. And two, it is still very much in its infancy.

 

Quick astronomy lesson for you: A nebula is a cloud of dust and gas surrounding a baby star.

 

A baby star like this little guy! Picture shows Neutron as a puppy sitting in front of a white and blue background. He is all head and paws.

 

Sorry, there was a picture of me and Neutron Star, and this picture of baby Neutron, in Seeing Eye’s quarterly magazine, and I couldn’t resist sharing it with you.

 

But seriously, nebulae are nurseries for stars and solar systems. A nebula is a vast cloud of interstellar dust, hydrogen, helium, and other ionized gases. The gas, dust, and other matter in the nebula clump together, gravity starts to do its thing, there’s some spinning action, and eventually the clump becomes dense enough to form stars. The remaining material, through a process called accretion, forms planets and other objects. This is how our own solar system and our own planet were formed. Cool, right?

 

So space law is nebulous in every sense of the word. It is fuzzy and confusing, and there’s no simple way to define it, but that’s because it is still being formed. Space law has been around since the USSR launched Sputnik in the 1950s, but as far as legal fields go, space law is pretty young.

 

Okay, you say, but what is it? The oversimplified answer is space law is the legal framework for anything to do with outer space. That legal framework is being built as we speak. I’ve heard that within ten years, space law is going to be the next big thing in the legal world. Which is why I’m trying to get aboard this rocketship now.

 

The way I understand it, space law is happening in multiple orbits in the U.S. First, there are the international treaties and agreements that govern what nations can do in outer space. Then, there are the federal agencies, like NASA, which are doing things in outer space. There are the federal agencies like NOAA, FAA, FCC, and the Department of State, which are creating regulations for what can be done in outer space. And finally there are all those new commercial space companies (you know, the ones sending cars to Mars). This is obviously not a complete picture, but it’s a basic outline.

 

There are five international treaties and a slew of memoranda of understanding between countries which make up the international law governing outer space. The gist of these international agreements is that outer space cannot be claimed by any one country, and space is only to be used for peaceful purposes. There are also agreements on rescuing astronauts, liability for damages caused by objects launched into outer space, and of course agreements governing the international space station.

 

On the domestic level, there are a whole bunch of federal agencies doing work in space. There’s NASA, of course, which runs the U.S. space program. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operates weather satellites. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates launch vehicles, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates radio frequency spectrum use (I’ll explain that more in a minute). There are more—Department of State, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, NIST, and more.

 

Finally, there are all the private space companies, which are doing everything from sending cars to Mars and launching inflatable modules for the International Space Station, to operating weather, GPS, and safety system satellites and conducting experiments on new medicines in microgravity. There is a lot of really cool stuff happening up in space, guys. The private space industry is growing very quickly, and this is one of the big reasons space law is growing so much as a field. The growing private space industry raises a lot of questions that will need to be answered. For example, no one can own bodies in space (like the moon or Mars or asteroids), but what about resources that could be extracted from asteroids by asteroid mining companies? And, on a simpler note, all these new space companies will need lawyers to do regular lawyerly things like drafting contracts and negotiating agreements and litigating disputes and such.

 

At the end of June, I left NIST and returned to Cambridge. I moved back into my apartment, returned to my habit of buying ice cream in Harvard Square every day (only kidding, I got myself down to once a week), and started my second internship at Analytical Space. Analytical Space is a small startup in Cambridge building an in-space data relay service using satellites about the size of shoeboxes. Basically, everybody has satellites up in space, but it’s really hard for these satellites to get data down to the ground, because as you all know, 70% of the world is water, and as you probably don’t know (because I didn’t) satellites need to connect to a specific ground terminal to get their data down to Earth. So Analytical Space is planning to put a bunch of satellites up in space to act like cell towers and connect other satellites with the ground much faster. And my favorite part, they’re using lasers to do it. I repeat: space lasers.

 

Right after I got here, our first satellite was deployed from the International Space Station, and we’ve been testing everything and getting ready for tests with customers. I’ve been helping with the regulatory side of that, which mainly means working with the FCC regulations. Which brings me back to the spectrum regulations I mentioned earlier.

 

Think back to high school science class and the electromagnetic spectrum, radio waves to gamma rays and all that stuff in between, including the rainbow. All communications take place on the electromagnetic spectrum. The FCC regulates how the spectrum is used and makes sure that no one is interfering with anyone else. This is why radio stations broadcast at different frequencies. Basically, the FCC is trying to minimize those awkward spots where you’re hearing two radio stations at once, except they’re not just doing it for radio stations. They’re doing it for satellites too. This is a very simplified version of what’s going on, but it’s the general idea. For the past two months, I’ve been learning how all this works, getting everything ready to get FCC approval for our beta tests, and drafting comments on the FCC’s proposed regulations for small satellites.

 

Apart from spending the last two months being thoroughly amazed and getting to geek out about cool space things, I’ve really enjoyed getting experience at a startup and seeing how the private space industry works. The people are all a lot of fun too. We had a big party to celebrate our first satellite’s deployment, and the interns had a Dungeons and Dragons night, and it’s been a really great experience on the whole. I’m going to be continuing part time at Analytical Space through the fall semester, or until 3L eats me.

 

So that’s what I was up to for the second half of my summer. I’m going to go enjoy the last few days before I have to crack the law books again, but I’ll be back next week with my August reading roundup and to talk about how I overcame my writer’s block this summer.

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Summer 2018 Part One: Adventures in Standards, Technology, and Maryland

It’s hard to believe it, but summer is drawing to an end. In less than two weeks, I’ll be starting my third and final year of law school (cue simultaneous terrified screaming and joyful dancing). But before I dive back into school, I want to talk about my summer. And what a summer it’s been.

 

Summer in law school is about four months long. That’s plenty of time to have a fulfilling internship and to take some time off. Or, if you’re like me, it gives you time to do two internships and squeeze in half a vacation where you can. I started working the Monday after finals ended, and I’m still working now. In fact, I’m continuing at this second internship through fall semester, so I’m never really stopping. A few people have commented, and I’ve made these comments myself, that I planned this poorly and should have built more of a break into my summer, but I’m really glad I did it this way. I wanted to get a lot of experience out of this summer, and that’s what I did.

 

I’m going to talk about my summer in three blog posts. Otherwise it would be one crazy long rather scattered blog post. In this post, I’m going to talk about my first internship at the Office of the Chief Counsel of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. In a few days, or next week, or whenever I get to it, I’m going to talk about my second internship at Analytical Space. I’m also going to talk about what exactly space law is in that post, because I know I’ve been promising that since I wrote this post a few months ago. Finally, in the third post,  I’m going to talk about how I overcame my writer’s block and my strategies for continuing to write once school starts again. That’s the plan, at least. So let’s get started.

 

Right after finals, I took a road trip down to Gaithersburg, Maryland to start my first internship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST. I had never heard of NIST before this year, and I was a little nervous about the whole thing. I’d had a hard time finding housing, too. All in all, I wasn’t looking forward to two months in what I saw as middle-of-nowhere Maryland, and thanks to my experiences in Italy, I hate commuting by bus. But it turned out to be a really great experience.

 

It was everything I could have wanted from an internship, and more.

 

First of all, I got to do some really cool legal work. There was the standard legal research and  memo writing, but it was on topics I found really interesting, like Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation and how it impacted the federal government, or how different aspects of government work, like appropriations from congress and delegation of certain powers to federal agencies. I also got to do some things I’ve never done before. I wrote two pieces of draft statutory language to amend NIST’s authorization bill (the law that gives NIST power to do things), and those were presented to Congress for revising. What happens to them next is anyone’s guess. I also got to draft a response appealing the denial of a patent. Finally, I got to do some things that all the NIST lawyers get to do—reviewing policy directives and notices of opportunities for federal funding (basically notices for federal grants), and it was really interesting to see how that process worked. I did a lot of interesting legal work. I was challenged, and I learned a lot of new things. And if I wasn’t sure about my choice to go into space law, I was absolutely positively sure after working at NIST.

 

It wasn’t just all the cool legal stuff that made my experience great. I really liked the people I was working with, and there was a great office environment. People were busy, but it never felt stressful, and people were always laughing. Neutron made a lot of new friends, of course. He liked to camp out under my desk, but whenever someone was walking past in the hall, he stuck his head out the door and was like “Hey, hey, you forgot to pet me!” We also got to meet attorneys from other NIST offices, and we even got to have lunch with an attorney from NOAA, which is one of the jobs I’m applying for after law school (cross your fingers for me). I also got to take a tour of the Capitol with other legal interns from the Department of Commerce.

 

Yes, I was still in the middle-of-nowhere Maryland, and yes the bus system did leave something to be desired (I could get to work in the morning and from work in the afternoon, but that was all, and don’t get me started on the times when the system that announced the stops was broken), but I made it work. The other attorneys gave me rides if it was pouring rain so I didn’t have to get all wet getting to work. I was living with three housemates, so I wasn’t on my own on the weekends. There was a nice mile loop around my neighborhood where I could walk with Neutron in the evenings. I got a lot of writing done, and I mean a lot (more on that in part three of my summer).

 

And I finally sucked it up and got a Lyft account so I could vensure out if I wanted to. This was actually a pretty big deal for me. I haven’t talked about it on here, but I’ve been pretty nervous about ridesharing services, because I’ve heard so many horror stories about what happens to people with guide dogs when they try to use them. Best case scenario, it seemed to me, the driver would simply drive away when they saw you: Worst case scenario, they’d get out of the car to yell at you that you can’t come with them and end up hitting you, or they’d take you in their car, but stop under a bridge somewhere, mug you, and leave you stranded god knows where. My philosophy on travel is that I want to get mlaces on my own two feet, or using public transportation, even if it takes me longer. But in Gaithersburg, if I wanted to go anywhere on the weekends that wasn’t this mile loop around my neighborhood (and you can only go in circles so many times before you get dizzy), I needed to take a Lyft. And so I did. I met some friends from Kenyon at the Gaithersburg Book Festival, and I went to Silver Springs a couple times to have lunch with them and for a board game night. The worst that happened was a leally awkward conversation in which a driver asked me a bunch of questions about being blind because she didn’t know anyone who “has the same problem as you.” But compared to being mugged or stranded, this was just fine. (Note, taking a Lyft has not been so easy in Boston. I’ll talk about that in part two of my summer.)

 

I realize that I haven’t actually told you what NIST is or what it does. This was sort of deliberate, because I didn’t realize the full extent of NIST’s work until my second to last day, when I got to go on a tour. Since I was splitting my summer between two internships, I started and ended my work at NIST earlier than most other legal interns at the federal government, so I missed the tour for the legal interns from the department of Commerce. But I got to join a tour for a group of middle and high school science teachers who had won grants. It was a ton of fun.

 

NIST is a federal agency, part of the Department of Commerce. It’s basically a giant government lab. The science kind, not the wagging kind. There are scientists from all over the world inventing things (hence the patent project I worked on), or working inn new and better ways to standardize everything from peanut butter to plumbing components. One of my housemates was doing something with neutrons (the subatomic particle, not my doggy), and another roommate was working on how to 3D print metal. So lots of cool stuff.

 

I think the thing NIST is most famous for is the standard peanut butter.  I don’t mean that this is the peanut butter from which all peanut butters are born. I mean that NIST makes a jar of peanut butter, and using their super special scientific measuring tools, the NIST scientists figure out how much fat, how many carbohydrates, and how much other stuff is in the peanut butter. Then, they sell the standard peanut butter to companies who make peanut butter, and the peanut butter companies can use their super special scientific measurement tools to look at the NIST peanut butter. If they get the same results as NIST, they know their measurements are right, and they can measure their own peanut butter and put all the correct info on the labels. If they get different results, they know they have to recalibrate their super special scientific measurement machines. NIST doesn’t just do this for peanut butter. You name it, NIST standardizes it.  there was even standard air and standard water, used to test machines that measure polution.

 

On the tour, we got a presentation from a scientist working in a lab where they did temperature and thermometer standards. It was a fascinating presentation, and I’m sorry to say that I don’t remember many of the finer poinss because it was about two months ago and I didn’t take notes. But the really cool thing was that all around this lab, there were these tubes containing different elements at their triple-point. They were keeping these tubes at precise temperatures and pressure, so that in each tube, at the same time, the element was in its solid, liquid, and gaseous state. They passed around the triple-point cells for water and tin. Jameyanne holding a triple-point cell for water, a glass cylinder containing solid ice, liquid water, and gaseous water vapor.The picture on the right is me holding the triple-point cell for water. It’s a glass tube, with ice at the bottom, water in the middle, and gas at the top. This was definitely one of those times when I was mourning the fact that I didn’t become a scientist, because soooo cooool!!!! But there’s plenty of time to become a scientist later if I want to, once I’ve paid off the law school student loans.

 

I spent eight weeks at NIST. I was so busy and I did so much that the time just flew by. It felt like one minute I was learning my way around the campus, and the next I was saying goodbye. This was hands-down the best legal internship I’ve had so far, and now I can’t wait to finish law school and start practicing science and space law.