The Registration Project: The Registration of Lunar Activities

Mark Sundahl & Kristina Schiavone

A new space law initiative, the Registration Project, was launched earlier this year to address the shortcomings of the existing law and practice regarding the registration of space objects and activities as the international community faces a new era of lunar exploration. This self-governed working group is a joint venture of the Moon Village Association (MVA) and the Global Space Law Center (GSLC) at Cleveland State University. The working group consists of 25 members from around the world drawn from industry, academia, government, and nongovernmental organizations.

On Friday, February 19th, 2021, the members of the Registration Project met for the first time. The meeting was closed to the public and subject to the Chatham House Rule of non-attribution. The meeting began with introductory remarks from the co-chairs, Professor Mark J. Sundahl and Antonino Salmeri, which was followed by the introduction of each member.

At this first meeting, the group recognized that despite the success of the Registration Convention, it is showing its age. A new era of lunar exploration is upon us and the Registration Convention (RC) no longer suffices to meet the needs of this new era. The Convention falls short for a number of reasons, including the fact that (1) the RC is limited to the registration of objects rather than activities, (2) the RC was designed for the registration of orbital objects rather than objects on the surface of (or in-orbit around) the Moon, (3) the RC does not provide for the registration of planned, future activities, (4) the RC does not provide for the protection of significant cultural or scientific sites, and (5) the RC does not provide for priority rights.

The working group recognized that there are multiple paths forward to reform the law and practice of registration including (1) amending the Registration Convention, (2) adopting a new UNGA Resolution that encourages enhanced registration practices for lunar activity, (3) adopting a new multilateral treaty that creates a new registry, or (4) creating a new voluntary registry that is operated by an NGO.

At this first meeting, the working group brainstormed about fundamental issues. Some members of the group saw Article XI of the OST as the legal foundation for a lunar registry. Other questions and comments began to flood in. Should a registration of an activity include safety zones? What is the legal effect of registration and how would it relate to existing space law regarding liability, jurisdiction, due regard, etc.? What information needs to be shared when registering?  Should registration give priority rights to parties who pre-register planned activities?

One member, thinking outside box, brought up pipelines and strip mines on the Moon as just a few of the potential future activities that would need to be registered. This remark was followed by a short moment of silence as those on the call considered the plausibility of such activity. Regardless of a member’s view on this future, the consensus was that as the objects and activities on the Moon increase, the information provided to the international community by means of an appropriate registry would promote safety and coordination, in addition to help avoid conflict on the surface of the Moon. When the meeting adjourned, the chairs asked the working group members to gather their thoughts and further questions in preparation for the next meeting.

The second meeting (also closed to the public) of the Registration Project working group was held on Friday, March 26, 2021. At the meeting, two preliminary issues were opened up to the group for discussion in order to lay the groundwork for the first public workshop. First, what are the shortcomings of current law and practice regarding registration? Second, what are the potential solutions? A robust discussion ensured, the results of which are currently being compiled and will be published in advance of the public workshop.

The next meeting of the Registration Project working group will take place in late June of this year. This meeting will take the form of a Public Workshop in order to provide all stakeholders an opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas regarding the work of the Registration Project. A date will be announced soon.

The ultimate work product of the Registration Project will be a White Paper that will be submitted for the consideration of the COPUOS in order to encourage an expanded agenda item regarding pressing legal issues related to impending lunar missions, both in the short-term and the long-term.

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