According to international space laws, no nation can claim sovereignty over the moon or other outer space entities. NASA is turning to the private sector to achieve its outer space objectives.
” If we are to remain at the forefront, we must continue investing and make sure that it is us, and no one else, who sets the pace,” Michael Usowski said, Senior Defense Intelligence Analyst for Space and Counterspace, Defense Intelligence Agency.
The first space race led to the United Nations 1966 Treaty which stated that nations cannot claim ownership rights in the space. In the new space age, officials warn, China could ignore those laws and norms to advance its goals.
“No country should plant this flag”, said John Huth of the DIA, who is chief of its office for space and counterspace. We’ve seen China build islands in the South China Sea and claim an exclusion zone. So, those are the things that we certainly want to keep an eye on.”
Lawmakers are also watching China and warn a new set of rules could be necessary to make sure everyone plays fair.
“We need some updated space law for sure. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) said that space is not just a mining domain, but also a place to fight wars.
With the rapid advancement of space programs there is now more question over who has access to explore and mine moon resources .
“It’s kind of opaque as far as what and when it comes to mineral extraction, whether or not there are any prohibitions against actually taking minerals away from the moon or another celestial body and then bringing them back to the earth,” Usowski said.
The U.S., and many other countries are passing laws that allow further exploration.
“We set our own rules,” Huth explained. “There’s nothing that really precludes any one country from extracting minerals from the moon or other planets. It’s a matter of developing those best practices.”
A 2015 U.S. law asks private companies to explore outer space resources. President Donald Trump’s 2020 executive order encourages advancements in space mining.
“An interesting piece on the treaty is it only looks at nation states. Usowski stated that the treaty doesn’t pay enough attention to commercial issues. “So, that’s an area that I think greater specificity would help as we see the greater commercialization of space.”
The U.S. plans to return to the lunar surface by the end of the year by utilizing commercial partnerships. Astrobotic, a private company, will supply the launch vehicle and the lander to the Peregrine Mission.
” The commercial space industry in the United States is thriving, and working with national organizations like NASA will enable us to lead this positive change,” Huth stated.
NASA plans to contract commercial partners for up to five planned rover missions next year. It’s all part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Initiative. China’s space programme is aligned more closely with the government.
“China is interesting in that there is a large amount of fusion between the civil and the government sector. It’s difficult to distinguish between the concerns of the private sector and the public, Usowski explained. They’re closely intertwined. So, one could reasonably assume that if a commercial entity is working on it that it’s funded and supported greatly by the nation state.”
Satellites and other objects in orbit are compiled in national registers by country and reported to the United Nations. The U.S. has more objects in orbit than any other country. Landing, building and digging on solid ground in outer space is forcing the international community to rethink that shared space.
“There’s certainly an understanding on Capitol Hill of the necessity to maintain that strong presence both from a government perspective, but also from that commercial perspective,” Huth said.
Lawmakers and scientists agree while staying ahead of China is important, more needs to be studied about outer space resources before we consider it a reliable source to mine.
“We need a dramatic increase in our ability to mine and process minerals both here in the United States and around the world,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said.
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