Artemis deals leave big questions about space mining largely unresolved

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Last week, the United States, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom signed the relatively laconic Artemis agreements, a set of rather vague acknowledgments regarding the future of space exploration. NASA has reportedly worked for some time, bilaterally with each of the signatories, to clarify the details (or lack thereof) of the deal. While Russia, which is a longtime US partner in space exploration has yet to sign, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine hopes it will soon.Artemis is the goddess of the moon in Greek mythology, and the agreements seem interested, at least initially, in the next US lunar exploration program Artemis, which is expected to resume manned missions to the moon by 2024. In addition From its immediate target on the moon, the deal is supposed to reinforce the principles agreed to in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and its descendants. Thus, the agreements – despite their wide, albeit superficial range of subjects, seem to have a singular purpose: the signing of bilateral agreements, which is a prerequisite for inclusion in these NASA-manned lunar missions, aims to create support. legal for mining the moon and other celestial bodies.

Eight countries sign agreements on the future of space exploration. Photo: Getty Images

While it is ironic that on the eve of the anniversary of 20 consecutive years of human residence in space on the aptly named International Space Station, the United States seems to have mostly spearheaded these bilateral agreements, we understand why this choice was made. NASA Trustees basically admitted that while the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) is probably the best forum for determining what we can and cannot do in space vis – with regard to things like lunar mining and resource extraction, there is no time to wait for the consensual body to reach a decision, especially if diplomacy requires determination. below average from the American perspective, which sees the extraction of resources from the moon as a necessity for future moon bases.

While space mining issues are relatively new in space law, most of the other terms accepted in the Agreements reiterate long-standing customary practice, if not outright international law, as set out in the four. first of the five space treaties, and as practiced by most space nations for half a century. These reiterations include, for example, the obligation to register relevant space objects, as well as a reaffirmation of the obligation to assist space personnel in distress.

Particularly in the text of the new agreement, the term “astronaut” in previous space treaties has been replaced by the more general term “personnel”. It is possible that this was intentional in light of the emerging reality that future space travel will include civilian tourists and other unconventional passengers who are not astronauts in the conventional sense.

Despite this particular appreciation that billionaires like Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic will play an increasingly important role in space travel, there is little other recognition, if any, that much of the Space exploration beyond Branson’s sub-orbital tourist flights will also be private. in nature.

Richard Branson & # 39; s Thoughts on Helmet  an astronaut.  Photo: Getty Images Richard Branson’s reflections on an astronaut’s helmet. Photo: Getty Images

In fact, the mere recognition, outright, of the increasingly central role of private actors in space seems to be a small derogation from an exemption from data sharing for these private actors. That’s all. It is even unclear whether the absence of other exclusions of private actors in the rest of the document implies that there are none and whether the private sector is also linked or is simply not part of it. the agreement. The latter seems more likely.

A particularly interesting aspect of the treaty is the obligation to preserve the older landing sites as the common heritage of mankind, as if the bags full of astronaut droppings that were unceremoniously thrown on the moon had some kind of sacred value. But this has been the goal of a number of non-governmental organizations for quite some time, so it’s no surprise that this ultimately made it a multinational document. Similarly, on the protection of the space environment, the last two substantive paragraphs, while short and vague, lead the parties to agree to tackle one of space’s greatest problems. outer space – orbital debris, aka space debris. Obviously, the agreements distinguish the space debris that we left on the moon, and which is now protected by the agreements, from the space debris in orbit that must be washed with the garbage.

The most surprising part of the chords, however, was the not too subtle burial of the lead. At the bottom of the document, the parties finally agree on the above-mentioned main objective of the document: that the extraction of celestial bodies is legal under international law and that countries have the right to create “safe zones” apparently akin to the document. exclusive economic zones of the sea which protect private and national interests far from the coast.

The controversial issue of space mining has been rebounding (like a lunar astronaut in one-eighth of Earth’s gravity) for some time. Treatises on outer space are somewhat ambiguous on the subject. They clearly state that space is the “province of all mankind” and that national ownership is discouraged, but it is not clear if this means you cannot extract resources at all. For example, the Antarctic Treaty system, which similarly regulates almost as distant Antarctica, had to specifically state a ban on mining, as this was not considered clear enough in other texts. of the treaty.

Another inhospitable place, the deep sea, is also considered a universal resource, and like Antarctica, we are allowed to extract fish from the deep sea. Moreover, deep water law even allows the extraction of minerals under international law, even if none have yet been mined. To some extent, the United States is trying to create the same understanding of space with the support of a handful of other international players.

At least two countries, the United States, in 2015 under President Obama, and Luxembourg, in 2017, and perhaps more recently the United Arab Emirates, already have laws providing for the extraction of minerals from extraterrestrial bodies. The signing of these new agreements only further concretizes this American understanding of international space law in the Artemis agreements. This American understanding of the law could become established law, especially if other countries do not oppose NASA’s moon mining activities.

To throw the ball early, in September, NASA transparently offered to buy the mined lunar regolith from private companies in a clearly designed effort to set a precedent to further strengthen their pro-mining position in international law. NASA hopes no one makes international fuss when this happens.

Perhaps this lucrative business opportunity can help fund Israel’s next moonlight and provide much-needed financial support to Israel’s growing civilian space industry.



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