ROSCOSMOS Virtual Conference on International Space Law: An Overview

On September 3, 2020, ROSCOSMOS held the first online conference on international space law. The Conference was dedicated to the international exchange of views on legal aspects of the exploration, production, and use of outer space resources. This blog article summarizes those views.

Mr. Michael Gold, Acting Assistant Administrator for International and Inter-Agency Relations at NASA, reaffirmed the United States dedication to compliance with the Outer Space Treaty (“OST”). The U.S. will also require its international partners to reaffirm commitment to the OST, pursuant to bilateral agreements known as the Artemis Accords. Gold stated that the U.S., like many other states, has not yet joined as a party to The Moon Agreement. He further stated that additional thought and debate are required on issues relative to the sharing of resources and regimes. Gold reaffirmed that the U.S. is happy to engage in this dialogue within COPUOS. The OST, while a strong foundation, does not account for private sectors or new international regimes. The U.S. issued an executive order which emphasized the legality of the extraction and use of space resources per the OST. The executive order was also meant to provide clarity to the international community that the U.S. will fulfill their international obligations contained in the OST, the Registration Convention, and other multilateral agreements.

Mr. Xu Hongliang, Secretary General, China National Space Administration, first stated that China considers the principles of the OST as the basic guidelines for all countries when carrying out outer space activities. Dialogues in cooperation with member states have highlighted the core role of the E.U. and COPUOS in the global governance of both outer space and have fully demonstrated that the international community has extensive common interests and demands. Xu discussed the new legal challenges to the existing framework posed by the growing demand for exploration and development of outer space resources. New international systems need to be established by the U.N. as soon as possible. These new systems should establish principles of law governing outer space resources regarding the actions of both state and commercial actors in outer space. The U.N. and COPUOS should aim to create a community in line with the goals and purposes of the OST, but also to meet the existing need of protecting the outer space environment.

Mr. Mathias Link, Director of the International Relations Department of the Luxembourg Space Agency, believes that the use of space resources will bring immense opportunity to scientific exploration and to humanity as a whole, but this use will come with very complex legal, business, and technological challenges. Link stated that the only way to approach these challenges is to advance on them simultaneously, and thus proposed a three-pillar approach to a solution. The first pillar places strong emphasis on international discussion, with the goal of reaching an agreement on an international framework on the use of outer space resources. The second pillar considers legal and regulatory issues. Luxembourg has enacted national law stating that ownership of space resources is legal. Luxembourg supports the establishment of a COPUOS working group with a meaningful agenda and key objectives. The third pillar regards the need to mature the technologies that are necessary to extract the resources by testing these technologies in space. It will only be possible to derive a meaningful framework internationally if it is apparent what the different challenges are that need to be solved. Governments will need to be adaptive and flexible as this discussion advances on both a bilateral and multilateral basis, as well as formally at COPUOS.

Mr. Gumbulani Aaron Mudau, Director of the Department of Space Science and Technology, Ministry of Science and Technology of South Africa, explained that South Africa is in the process of finalizing the review of existing legislation to expressly incorporate the latest developments with respect to outer space as well as the space treaties and conventions to which the country is party to. He emphasized the importance of international cooperation describing it as the cornerstone. Mudau discussed the Moon Treaty highlighting that the most controversial section deals with natural resources on the Moon. It provides that the Moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind, and the harvesting of those resources is forbidden except through an international regime established to govern the exploitation of such resources. Mudau emphasized that the Moon should be used for peaceful purposes by all state parties that should take measures to prevent the disruption of the existing balance of its environment. Mudau also commented that member states cannot unilaterally extract resources from celestial bodies for personal gain without contradicting the principle that outer space is the domain of all humankind.

Mr. Giusepe Reibaldi, President of the Moon Village Association, Secretary of the Hague Working Group on Space Resources Management, discussed the work completed by the Hague Working Group to create 20 Building Blocks which he stated took into account input from industries, government representatives, and NGO’s. He explained the importance of getting the public involved to solve the urgent need of a multilateral understanding of all of the different rules and principles to exploit and use space resources. Reibaldi emphasized that COPUOS has a certain length of time to process viewpoints. Because there are already Moon missions planned by several space agencies, there is an urgent need to understand how going to the Moon will be carried out (space resources, debris generation, landing spots, etc.) to reduce risk on a global level due to the international political climate. Reibaldi also proposed allowing a neutral organization, such as the MVA, to host an unofficial discussion in addition to discussions in COPUOS.

Mr. Keiji Kitumara, Director of the Moscow Office of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), discussed JAXA’s Hayabusa2 international mission which is its second asteroid sample-return mission. Hayabusa2 was launched in 2014 and landed on a near-earth asteroid in 2018. It surveyed the asteroid for a year and a half and will return samples to Earth on December 6, 2020. He also emphasized the need to reduce the amount of resources transported from Earth to reduce overall costs and promote a more sustainable approach to space activity. He also stated that it is essential to establish international rules with the purpose of preventing disputes among governments and private actors. Further, the Japanese government would like to develop a system promotes private sector space resource activity. Kitamura believes the most valuable resource on the Moon will be water.

Mr. Alexey Dronov, Deputy Director of the Legal Department of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, discussed the need to establish an international list of space resources and the need to exchange information on an international level.

United Arab Emirate (“UAE”) Space Agency:

Mr. Naser Alrashedi, Director of the National Space Policy and Regulation Department of the UAE Space Agency, stated that when setting the regulatory and policy framework for the UAE Space Agency, it established two key principles: maximizing the benefit of space and to sustain the development and growth of the space [private] sector. The utilization of space resources is a way towards achieving those two principles. Alrashedi pointed out that while the first era of space exploration was about discovery, this era is about using resource utilization as a bridge to allow humans to live and settle in outer space with the aid of the innovation of the private sector to sustain space activity. He emphasized that if we continue to live in the era of discovery, we will fail to attract the private sector. He stated the need to include other sectors and industries in the discussion regarding space resources and living in space. In regard to the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act’s alignment with the OST, Alrashedi stated that someone had to start somewhere. Without his act, we would not have reached the discussion about space resource utilization. However, he emphasized that if we are moving the commercial sector towards space exploration, their utilization of space resources has to be governed by a combination of domestic law and international law. We must not block innovation but continue to talk more about the challenges at the various levels.

The Director General of the UAE Space Agency, Mr. Mohammad Nasser Al-Ahbabi, expressed that the UAE accomplished and completed their regulatory framework in terms of national space policy, national space strategy, and forward-looking space law. Al-Ahbabi further stated that the UAE has issued a strategy for space investment promotion. UAE plans to continue to promote space activities in their region. UAE has already launched an initiative to establish Arab-based cooperation to bring more countries into the international space dialogue in various areas. The UAE is working to continue progress. This year the UAE launched their first mission to Mars which aligns with other missions by the U.S. and China.

In closing, the ROSCOSMOS virtual conference brought with it an exchange of views that were a positive step forward in multilateral discussions regarding space resource activity. Please share your thoughts and comments in our comment section.

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