Kommentar in The Telegraph: US accused of trying to colonise space with mining the moon executive order

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Kommentar in The Telegraph: US accused of trying to colonise space with mining the moon executive order

Scientists say planets in danger of becoming another ‘arena for war’ between Spacefarers US and Russia

By Josie Ensor, US Correspondent 8 April 2020 • 5:52pm

Erschinen in The Telegraph

The US has been criticised for attempting to “privatise” space with a new executive order establishing its right to commercially mine planets. President Donald Trump this week signed an order outlining US policy on the exploitation of water and other lunar resources that could help America establish a long-term human presence on the moon. It set out how US citizens should have the right to engage in such activity and that “Outer space is a legally and physically unique domain of human activity, and the United States does not view it as a global commons.”

Russia, however, said the order put the US at odds with the notion of space belonging to all humanity. “Attempts to expropriate outer space and aggressive plans to actually seize territories of other planets hardly set the countries (on course for) fruitful cooperation,” Roscosmos, Moscow’s space agency, said in a statement. Russia, a leading producer of natural resources, last year announced plans to join Luxembourg in mining for minerals in outer space.

There is a general feeling in the space and science community that space is for the good of all,” Malcolm Macdonald, Chair of Space Technology at the University of Strathclyde, told the Telegraph. He said the planets were in danger of becoming another “arena for war” between old Cold War foes, which had until now managed to maintain cooperation on space despite worsening relations. “It is a shame the US has done this rather than show some leadership and pull the international community together. No matter how hard that might be, it would have been nice to have been seen to try.”

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which all space-faring countries belong, states that no country can appropriate any celestial body for themselves, whether by occupying it or using it. That means they cannot legally claim ownership of an asteroid or a part of the moon. For a country or company that wants to do space resource mining there is no solid legal ground and these missions would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, so investors want some assurance they can get their money back.

The US is asserting that celestial bodies are not global commons, which have specific legal definitions. Because the prospect of mining the moon or asteroids has been such a distant prospect for so long, this has largely been an academic debate. But now that the prospects are slightly more realistic, states are starting to make policies individually. 

Some in the community said the order dismissed concerns that space resources should be considered a “global commons” worthy of special considerations. “In space, like in every other domain, we have established international norms of behaviour,” Sonay Sarac, Space Security and Defense Expert at the German Society for Aeronautics and Astronautics, told The Telegraph. “The ‘common heritage of mankind’ is probably the most important norm in space. But this principle is increasingly being contested due to growing technological innovations and growing geopolitical tensions between the US, Russia and China,” he said. “In my opinion, this development is only part of a bigger political picture.”

Experts said they believed the US was trying to clarify the legal situation for its future lunar base, where they will hope to use some of the resources to support the base – but could be legally questionable without the order.

Nasa’s so-called Artemis program for crewed lunar exploration aims to land two astronauts on the moon in 2024 and to establish a sustainable human presence on and around Earth’s nearest neighbor by 2028. Lunar resources, especially the water ice thought to be plentiful on the permanently shadowed floors of polar craters, are key to Artemis’ grand ambitions, Nasa officials have said.

Mr Trump has shown considerable interest in shaping US space policy. In December 2017, he signed Space Policy Directive-1, which laid the groundwork for the Artemis campaign.

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