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Mining claims on the moon and lunar lands fall into a gray area of ​​international law, but negotiations are ongoing to avoid conflict and damage to spacecraft.

Making territorial claims in space is illegal under international law. (Image credit: NASA/Neil Armstrong)

This article was originally published in The Conversation. (will open in a new tab) The publication published an article in Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights on Space.com.

Michelle L.D. Hanlon (will open in a new tab)professor of air and space law at the University of Mississippi

It’s been 50 years since humans last visited the moon, and even robotic missions have been rare. But Earth’s only natural satellite is about to overflow.

At least six countries and many private companies have publicly announced more than 250 missions to the moon. (will open in a new tab) happen in the next decade. Many of these missions include plans for permanent lunar bases and are largely motivated by a desire to appreciate and begin exploiting the Moon’s natural resources. In the short term, resources will be used to support lunar missions, but in the long term, the Moon and its resources will become an important gateway for missions to the wider riches of the solar system.

Related: NASA Artemis 1 Lunar Mission Explained in Photos

But those lofty ambitions run into a looming legal question. On Earth, the possession and possession of natural resources is based on territorial sovereignty. Conversely, Article II of the Outer Space Treaty (will open in a new tab) — the 60-year-old agreement governing human activities in space — prohibits states from claiming territory in space. This limitation includes the moon, planets and asteroids. So how will space resources be managed?

I am a lawyer dedicated to the peaceful and sustainable use of outer space. (will open in a new tab) for the benefit of all mankind. I believe the 2020s will be recognized as the decade when humanity has evolved into a truly space-based species, using space resources to survive and thrive both in space and on Earth. To support this future, the international community is working through several channels to establish a space resource management system, starting with the Earth’s nearest neighbor, the Moon.

Water is one of the most valuable resources on the Moon and is found primarily in craters at the south pole (left) and north pole (right). The blue color in the images represents areas of the ice surface. (Image credit: NASA)

Lunar missions for lunar resources

The US-led Artemis program is a coalition of commercial and international partners whose primary goal is to return humans to the Moon by 2024. Ultimately, the plan is to establish a long-term lunar base. Russia and China also announced plans to establish a joint International Lunar Research Station. (will open in a new tab) and an invitation to international cooperation (will open in a new tab) also. Several private missions are also being developed by companies such as iSpace. (will open in a new tab)astrobot (will open in a new tab) and several others (will open in a new tab).

These missions aim to determine what resources are actually available on the Moon, where they are, and how difficult it will be to mine them. (will open in a new tab). Currently, the most valuable of these resources is water. Water can be found mostly in the form of ice in shaded craters in the polar regions. (will open in a new tab). It is essential for drinking and growing food, but when split into hydrogen and oxygen, it can also be used as fuel for rockets. (will open in a new tab) either return to Earth or go beyond the moon.

Other valuable resources on the Moon include rare earth metals such as neodymium, used in magnets, and helium-3. (will open in a new tab)which can be used to generate energy (will open in a new tab).

Current research shows that there are only a few small patches of the Moon that contain both water and rare Earth elements. (will open in a new tab). This concentration of resources could pose a problem, as many of the planned missions are likely to focus on exploring the same areas of the Moon.

dusty problem

The last man on the moon, Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan called lunar dust “one of the most aggravating limiting facets of the lunar surface.” (will open in a new tab).” The moon is covered in a layer of fine dust and small, sharp rock fragments called regolith. Since there is little to no atmosphere on the moon, regolith is easily blown away by the wind when a spacecraft (will open in a new tab) land or drive on the lunar surface.

Part of the 1969 Apollo 12 mission was to bring back to Earth parts of the Surveyor 3, the American spacecraft that landed on the moon in 1967 to study its surface. The Apollo 12 lunar module landed 535 feet from Surveyor 3, but upon inspection, engineers found that particles ejected from the Apollo 12 exhaust had pierced the surface of Surveyor 3, literally injecting regolith into the equipment. (will open in a new tab).

It is not hard to imagine that a lander or even a surface rover of one country will fly too close to another country’s spacecraft and cause significant damage.

Dust from the Apollo 12 landing, visible in this background image, pierced the metal on the front of Surveyor 3 from over 500 feet away. (Image credit: NASA/Alan L. Bean)

Need for rules

When efforts to return to the Moon began to gain momentum in the 2000s, NASA was so concerned about the destructive potential of lunar dust that in 2011 it released a set of recommendations for all space objects. The goal was to protect Apollo and other US objects on the lunar surface of historical and scientific value. Recommendations implement “exclusion zones (will open in a new tab)“, defined by NASA as “boundary areas that spacecraft should not enter.”

The very concept of these zones violates the direct meaning and purpose of Article II. (will open in a new tab) Space treaties. The article states that no piece of space is subject to “national appropriation” by “means of use or occupation.” Creating an exclusion zone around a landing or mining site can certainly be considered an occupation.

However, the Outer Space Treaty offers a potential solution.

The Moon’s surface is covered in a layer of fine dust and sharp rock fragments, as shown in this photograph taken by Buzz Aldrin in 1969. (Image credit: NASA/Buzz Aldrin)

International promotions

Article IX (will open in a new tab) The Outer Space Treaty requires that all activities in outer space be carried out “with due regard to the respective interests of others”. In line with this philosophy, many countries are currently working on the sharing of space resources.

To date, 21 countries have signed the Artemis Accord. (will open in a new tab), which use the Outer Space Treaty due diligence clause to support the development of “notification and coordination” zones, also referred to as “safety zones”. While 21 countries is no small number, the agreements do not currently include major space powers such as China, Russia or India.

In June 2022, the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (will open in a new tab) a working group on the legal aspects of space activities was formed (will open in a new tab). The mandate of this group is to develop and recommend principles relating to the “exploration, exploitation and use of space resources”. While the group has yet to consider substantive issues, at least one non-Artemis Accords country, Luxembourg, has already expressed interest in promoting safe zones.

This working group represents an ideal way for safe zones such as those outlined in the Artemis Accords to gain unanimous international support. For all lunar (will open in a new tab)A non-profit organization that I founded, made up of NASA space experts and veterans, is on a mission to support the establishment of protective zones around sites of historical significance in space. (will open in a new tab) as the first version of security zones. The safety zones, originally caused by exacerbating lunar dust, can be the starting point for developing a functional system for managing resources and territory in space. This action will protect important historical sites. (will open in a new tab). This could also have the added benefit of seeing resource management as a tool for conservation rather than exploitation.

This article is republished from The Conversation (will open in a new tab) under a Creative Commons license. Read original article (will open in a new tab).

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