Space Treaty

Ad Astra (2019)

When science fiction attempts to get serious about how to best represent the human colonisation of the solar system, films like Ad Astra (2019) establish free enterprise as the plot devises for the story. With commercial flights to the moon, a Luna base that looks like an airport on Earth, fast food facilities, piracy, and private space laboratories…

…The future of space travel is business.

No human society is going to get off-Earth and colonise the solar system without a powerful driver propelling it. Scientific curiosity can raise billions of dollars to send robots out there to learn things, but inducement is a far greater and more effective driver known to mankind. I’m not talking about a business proposal that sends humans to Mars for a reality TV program, space-faring humans require more of a legal framework, or better, the lack of one, to get it going.

One doesn’t simply just go to Mars.

Ad Astra (2019)

Japanese space startup, iSpace, has long-term plans to send humans to the moon. To get to that point, the company aims to make the endeavour profitable by launching basic small-scale missions to the moon’s surface to collect regolith samples… and sell them.

But NASA paying just $5000 for the samples is not the end game.

iSpace is also planning to launch satellites around the moon’s orbit to provide high-resolution images of the surface. To achieve any of this, the Japanese government passed a law granting iSpace a licence to prospect for, extract and use various space resources on the Moon. Why do companies need permission to exploit space?

Well, there’s a whole bunch of Space Treaties that block any determination about who owns the Moon, or any other space resource, and stifle any entity, corporate or otherwise from exploiting it. According to The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) webpage…

Each of the treaties stresses the notion that outer space, the activities carried out in outer space and whatever benefits might be accrued from outer space should be devoted to enhancing the well-being of all countries and humankind, with an emphasis on promoting international cooperation

Ad Astra (2019)

The 1966 Outer Space Treaty states that “outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means”.

Another is the 1979 Moon Treaty, which states “the orderly and safe use of the natural lunar resources with an equitable sharing by all state parties in the benefits derived from those resources”.

Here is a summary of what The United Nations has signed up most countries for.

Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies

Ad Astra (2019)

Article 1.

Essentially puts forth egalitarian access to all celestial bodies. Everyone is free to explore unhindered for the benefit of all nations. You are allowed to go to any celestial body and do whatever you want, but it’s still vague whether you can capitalise on anything you find.

Article 2

You can not claim sovereignty on any celestial territory.

Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject
to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.


There is no ambiguity here. I wonder what trouble in the future this will cause.

Article 3

Determines that you are bound to international laws and to the promotion of peace and cooperation.

Article 4

No weapons in orbit or on the moon or anywhere. Sure, you can be military personnel, but no weapons.

Ad Astra (2019)

Article 5

Astronauts are to be protected and afforded help and assistance in the event of an accident. Astronauts must help other astronauts in space. And, astronauts must report any “phenomena they discover in outer space, which could constitute a danger.”

Article 6

Governments are responsible for what their national corporations do in outer space and whether or not they are compliant.

Article 7

Get liability insurance. If you launch or attempt to land a spacecraft, and it crashes in an other another country, you are liable.

Article 8

You have legal jurisdiction over whatever you launch into space.

Article 9

Do not bring back “extraterrestrial matter” that can contaminate the Earth, and do not pollute space with experiments that can harm other space farers.

Article 10

“Promote international cooperation” by letting less techy countries come and observe your endeavours.

Article 11

If you’re planning a mission into space, you have to tell everybody what you are doing.

Article 12

“Reciprocity” You have to allow rivals into your base, craft or any installation you have in space. They have to do the same.

Ad Astra (2019)

Article 13

If you have an issue with another astronaut from another country; or countries, take it up with the “appropriate” authorities, or complain to other member nations of the treaty, and get them to gang up on the offending party.

In other words, doesn’t look like OOSA is able to intervene.

Articles 14 to 17 deal with the how and who can amend, and other housekeeping rules.

There are five U.N. accords with the addition of the “1968 Rescue Agreement”, The “1972 Liability Convention” and the “1975 Registration Convention”.

The Artemis Accords

The United States via NASA has recently set up a separate non-binding multilateral arrangement with the space agencies of 21 other countries. The Artemis program aims to return humans to the Moon by 2025, and then to Mars. The countries who have signed up to this accord pledge to enable laws that endorse and enable their public and private agencies to extract and use space resources.

The US has introduced laws giving American companies the right to the resources they extract in space, the moon or any other celestial body. Britain, Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates have since passed similar legislation, same as Japan.

But not Russia.

Ad Astra (2019)

They are sticking to the old U.N. rules, I’m guessing because they are not ready to compete in space with the likes of the West’s private sector companies. They call it a land grab, which in reality it is. Treaties, accords and agreements are a subterfuge for holding national and corporate powers back for as long as possible. Participants agree to these terms so they don’t get left behind. Just like in the case of the Antarctic Treaty, nobody wants a free for all. Space colonisation is very expensive, so if a free for all occurs, and you can’t afford it, you will miss out.

Once Russia feels confident with its public and private sectors, then Roscosmos will change its tune about any egalitarian notions of common heritage and of space belonging to everyone.

China and India too.

Ad Astra (2019)

The conquest of space will be no different to the conquest of the new world.

Profits will drive the engines, whether this is powered by space tourism, reality TV programs, or mining resources. The Industrial Military Complex will also be a major player, no matter how hard these treaties try to avoid the militarization of space. Treaties are only worth the paper they’re printed on, or the PDF they’re documented on.

The future of space travel will be messy, ad-hoc and business as usual, just as human affairs have been for the past ten thousand years.

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