Science

Theoretically, space belongs to no one… yet

The impending return of the US to the moon and the possible simultaneous landing of China prompted Washington to prepare a legal framework in the form of the Artemis Accords. In fact, they confirm the basic principles of the “space treaty”, drawn up in the midst of the star race, in the framework of the exploration and use of “outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies.” These legal issues lie at the heart of the very origins of space exploration. As early as 1956, the Eisenhower administration prioritized peaceful scientific research to create a legal precedent to allow its future spy satellites to fly over all countries from orbit. To everyone’s surprise, this precedent was provided on a plate by the Soviets themselves.

In 1959, the UN created the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, which laid the foundations of space law. The Space Treaty was signed and ratified by Washington, Moscow and London in 1967. Since then, at least 109 other states have done the same. From the first articles in the text, it is indicated that no state can appropriate extra-atmospheric space. In 1979, the Lunar Treaty proposed that all celestial bodies belong to the international community, but it was not signed by any of the major space powers and therefore remains a dead letter.

Since then, space exploration has not remained the prerogative of governments. Like international waters, space, the Moon, Mars, and asteroids are res nullius: they belong to no one. It is impossible to assign a fishing or drilling zone outside the territorial waters, but nothing prevents fishing or drilling there, which has not escaped the attention of some ambitious entrepreneurs.

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New interpretation of treaties

In 2015, Washington violated the 1967 treaty with its own interpretation: the United States does not appropriate any space territory, but American companies will be able to sell the resources they manage to extract from it. Luxembourg immediately passed similar legislation to become the European center for research into asteroid exploitation.

The Artemis Accords introduce two new concepts: historic sites of past exploration, such as the Apollo moon landing sites, must be protected, but no-go zones and “safety zones” around scientific installations will also need to be negotiated. disrupting their business.

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Twenty countries, including France, have already signed these agreements, which are not subject to the UN. Russia and China have announced they won’t. Moscow denounces the creation of a system beneficial to the United States, while Beijing compares them to unequal treaties imposed on it by the colonial powers in the 19th century. Indeed, it will be enough to be the first to establish a permanent scientific installation at the South Pole of the Moon, where water reserves are concentrated, to ask others not to get too close, which means they cannot also use this resource. .

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