from the space-mining dept.
An event of cosmic proportions occurred on November 18 when the US congress passed the Space Act of 2015 into law. The legislation will give US space firms the rights to own and sell natural resources they mine from bodies in space, including asteroids.
Although the act, passed with bipartisan support, still requires President Obama's signature, it is already the most significant salvo that has been fired in the ideological battle over ownership of the cosmos. It goes against a number of treaties and international customary law which already apply to the entire universe.
The new law is nothing but a classic rendition of the "he who dares wins" philosophy of the Wild West. The act will also allow the private sector to make space innovations without regulatory oversight during an eight-year period and protect spaceflight participants from financial ruin. Surely, this will see private firms begin to incorporate the mining of asteroids into their investment plans.
The act represents a full-frontal attack on settled principles of space law which are based on two basic principles: the right of states to scientific exploration of outer space and its celestial bodies and the prevention of unilateral and unbridled commercial exploitation of outer-space resources. These principles are found in agreements including the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the Moon Agreement of 1979.
First, the Artemis Accords go beyond simply rejecting the unpopular 1979 Moon Agreement, which declared lunar resources to be the "common heritage of mankind" and committed parties to establish an international regime to oversee space mining. Only 18 countries have signed the treaty.
In its place, the accords envisage a US-centric framework of bilateral agreements in which "partner nations" agree to follow US-drafted rules.
Second, the accords introduce the concept of "safety zones" around lunar operations.
Although territorial claims in space are prohibited under international law, these safety zones would seek to protect commercial and scientific sites from inadvertent collisions and other forms of "harmful interference". What kinds of conduct could count as harmful interference remains to be determined.
(2020-06-02) Third European Service Module for Artemis Mission to Land Astronauts on the Moon
(2020-05-16) NASA Wants Partner Nations to Agree to "Artemis Accords" for Lunar Exploration
(2020-03-12) CoronaVirus (SARS-CoV-2) Roundup 2020-03-12
(2018-07-22) Who Owns The Moon? A Space Lawyer Answers
(2018-03-07) China to Recruit Civilian Astronauts, Partner With Russia on Upcoming Missions
(2018-01-09) Russia Assembles Engineering Group for Lunar Activities and the Deep Space Gateway
(2017-10-18) Bigelow and ULA to Put Inflatable Module in Orbit Around the Moon by 2022
(2015-11-26) Who Owns Space? USA's Asteroid-Mining Act is Dangerous and Potentially Illegal
Robert Heinlein explored the notion in a novel. Does the future of space exploration lie with governments or corporations?