SWF Space Sustainability Research Fellowship Results: Polycentricity in Space Governance, and “Is Outer Space a Commons?”

When: Monday, March 13, 2023

Time: 2:00pm - 3:30pm Eastern Time

Where: Virtual

The Secure World Foundation established the SWF Space Sustainability Research Fellowship program to explore fundamental questions underpinning space sustainability, including fundamental concepts such as the economics of a commons, and different types of governance models. This webinar, hosted by SWF, featured the results of our inaugural cohort of Research Fellows. 

Claire Oto, a Senior Policy Analyst at the University of Virginia's National Security Policy Center, explored issues of polycentric decision-making in global space governance. The research questions posed to Claire included: 

  • How does the existing body of literature on polycentric governance inform how we should be approaching space governance? 
  • What are the missing mechanisms, institutions, and stakeholders that need to be created or brought into the discussion? 
  • What should be the priority in applying polycentric governance concepts in near-term work to bolster space governance and enhance long-term sustainability, safety, and security of outer space?

Click to read Claire Oto's Executive Summary and Full Report on polycentricity.


Daniel Patton, an Environmental Specialist in Huntsville, Alabama, was tasked with developing a better understanding of the question, “Is Outer Space a Global Commons?” The research questions posed to Daniel included:

  • What does the phrase ‘Space as a Global Commons’ mean? 
  • Is outer space actually a ‘global commons’ or a ‘common pool resource’?
  • Which actors refer to outer space using these terms? 
  • How can concepts from the governance of the commons & common pool resources productively inform various space policy discussions? 
  • Are there approaches from the governance of other shared domains (air, sea, cyber, Antarctica, the environment) that might be usefully transposed to space governance? 
  • What concepts from those shared domains do not translate well to outer space? 
  • What happens when some actors see space as a commons, while others do not? 

Click to read Daniel Patton's Executive Summary and Full Report on the commons in space.


The recorded webinar can be accessed on the SWF YouTube channel.


Please contact SWF Space Law Advisor, Christopher Johnson for more information.

Last updated on March 15, 2023