Trump administration drafting agreement for moon mining

May 7, 2020

According to a report from Reuters, the Trump administration has begun drafting a legal agreement that would serve as the blueprint for mining on the moon. The U.S. sponsored agreement, called the Artemis Accords, would be the latest effort to mine and create space stations on the moon.

The draft pact has not been formally shared with U.S. allies yet.

The United States is among many countries that view the moon as a key strategic asset in outer space. The moon also has value for long-term scientific research that could enable future missions to Mars.

The Artemis Accords, named after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s new Artemis moon program, propose “safety zones” that would surround future moon bases to prevent damage or interference from rival countries or companies operating in close proximity.

The pact also aims to provide a framework under international law for companies to own the resources they mine, the sources told Reuters.

In the coming weeks, U.S. officials plan to formally negotiate the accords with space partners such as Canada, Japan, and European countries, as well as the United Arab Emirates, opening talks with countries the Trump administration sees as having “like-minded” interests in lunar mining.

Russia, a major partner with NASA on the International Space Station, won’t be an early partner in these accords, the sources said, as the Pentagon increasingly views Moscow as hostile for making “threatening” satellite maneuvers toward U.S. spy satellites in Earth orbit, Reuters reported.

The United States is a member of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and sees the “safety zones” as an implementation of one of its highly debated articles. It states that celestial bodies and the moon are “not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”

“NASA’s all about science and technology and discovery, which are critically important, but I think less salient is the idea that NASA is a tool of diplomacy,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said.

“The important thing is, countries all around the world want to be a part of this. That’s the element of national power,” Bridenstine said, adding that participation in the Artemis program is contingent on countries adhering to “norms of behavior that we expect to see” in space.

NASA is investing tens of billions of dollars into the Artemis program, which calls for putting humans on the moon by 2024 and building up a “sustainable presence” on the lunar south pole thereafter, with private companies mining lunar rocks and subsurface water that can be converted to rocket fuel.

The United States enacted a law in 2015 granting companies the property rights to resources they mine in outer space, but no such laws exist in the international community.

 

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