Sustainable space management at risk under US-centric policies

October 08, 2020

"Other nations need to speak up, now," argue Aaron Boley and Michael Byers in this Policy Forum, in response to U.S. policymakers' attempts to dominate commercial space mining based on a strategic interpretation of international space law. If accepted by many other nations, the resulting policies - unleashed via NASA's Artemis Accords - would position the U.S. as the sole gatekeeper of the Moon and other celestial bodies, the authors warn. Such U.S.-centric policies would go against the UN's 1979 Moon Agreement that protects the Moon as the "common heritage of mankind," as well as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty that bans "national appropriation" of the Moon and other celestial bodies. Shortly after President Trump's Executive Order in April 2020 affirming the right to space mining, NASA introduced the Artemis Accords, a set of agreements required for enrollment in NASA's Artemis moon exploration program. Under the Accords, commercialized space mining would be subject only to national regulation, and private companies would be allowed to declare "safety zones" where they could operate without any external interference. The lure of manning the moon could push nations toward accepting the accords. This is all part of NASA's "concerted, strategic effort to redirect international space cooperation in favor of short-term U.S. commercial interests, with little regard for the risks involved," the authors argue. The risks of uncontrolled asteroid mining include human-made meteorites, increased debris that can threaten satellites and space operations, and -- as a worst-case scenario -- redirection of meteorites impacting Earth. "Instead of pressing ahead unilaterally and bilaterally, the United States should support negotiations on space mining within the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space," said Boley and Byers. The authors do note, more broadly, that leaving space regulation to national governments could be workable, but, the current environment risks more of a "race to the bottom."

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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