Jonty Kasku-Jackson ’97, Head of Department of Space Mastery (SigmaTech) supporting the National Security Space Institute (NSSI), is a renowned subject-matter expert in national space policies and strategies.
What are the origins of your interest in space law, and how did that lead to your study at New England Law?
I was a Star Trek geek growing up and very into the guiding principle of the Prime Directive. The broader notion that we could have one set of rules by which the whole world lived was very appealing to me. I headed to college on an ROTC scholarship with a vision of working for NASA. Then I ran into calculus and physics and had to reconsider my objectives.
I shifted my aspirations towards intelligence work and spent the first five years of my career in technical intelligence. Through that work, I maintained my interest in space in general and in what the Soviet Union was doing in particular. I also continued to find the notion of a Prime Directive compelling, and I felt that international law had the potential to deliver on some aspects of that vision.
When my husband enrolled in a master’s program at Tufts University, I decided to look at potential graduate school opportunities for myself as well. International law was on my radar, and I liked what I saw at New England Law. I also was attracted to the level of practical experience I could gain through internships.
How did your study at New England Law advance your career objectives?
Studying international law reinforced my interest in space law. My degree got me in the door at Air Force Space Command. As it turned out, however, international law wasn’t the only aspect of my legal education that proved pivotal. When I got down to the work at Space Command, I found that all my studies were relevant—leases, licenses, air quality controls, environmental regulations, you name it.
One of the most useful aspects of my law school training actually turned out to be the basic skill set I gained through my internship at the housing unit of the Massachusetts attorney general’s office. I learned to analyze legal arguments, present a real case before a judge, and think on my feet. That experience translated directly to understanding the legal and policy ramifications of space law, briefing senior military officers, and writing policy proposals in plain English. I flourished because I had those skills on day one.
What are the risks and rewards for the U.S. and its allies in getting space law right?
The stakes are considerable not just for us and our allies but also for our adversaries. Ensuring the safety and stability of our activities in space is essential to all of humanity. The worst-case scenario is that hypersonic technologies could extend into space the conflicts we are currently grappling with here on earth.
More than 70 players are active in space right now, and we need a set of norms that everyone will sign onto. U.S. policy evolved a bit in 2020 when we committed to pursuing norms that extend beyond established law in areas such as launch safety criteria, the distance between satellites, and debris mitigation. People think of space as vast and stable, but the portion in which humans operate is relatively tiny and deceptively fragile. So fragile, in fact, that our carelessness could destroy it. If we do, everyone will pay the price.
I am encouraged by work that’s being done at the international level. The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA), for example, has become a place for dialogue among countries with and without national space programs. And OOSA forums are bringing voices to the table from academia and commercial ventures for the first time in history. These conversations are essential if we are to develop the standards, norms, and treaties we’ll need to ensure the peaceful use of space in the 21st century.
What advice would you give to law students and young lawyers interested in learning more about space law?
Dedicated journals such as the Journal of Space Law (University of Mississippi) and Annals of Air and Space (McGill University) and sites like SpaceNews.com are great places to start. Social media also is full of space law discussions—I follow several dozen experts—and you’ll often find recommendations for webinars (many are free). If you’re wondering about employment opportunities, I recommend looking into the newly-established U.S. Space Force. And consider taking some business organization courses. I can personally vouch for the fact that such study will come in handy.
Interested in going into the field of space law? Joining New England Law's Space Law Society is a great place to start.