News•Business• 03.07.2019 • Duncan Roberts & Natalie A. Gerhardstein
CG render of the original Apollo mission space craft on the moon with planet earth in the background
Luxembourg and the United States are the only two countries to have addressed property rights in space in legal texts.
There is very little governance in space, not many international laws deal with space,” says Georges Schmit. Luxembourg says that resources from space are susceptible to appropriation.
The international Outer Space Treaty of 1967 has since been signed by 108 countries, including Luxembourg, and basically says that celestial bodies, including the moon, cannot be appropriated and that they can only be used for peaceful purposes. The less significant Moon Treaty of 1979, which has only been ratified by 18 countries who don’t engage in self-launched manned space exploration, differs from the 1967 treaty in that it states space is the common heritage of all mankind, rather than the province of mankind, Schmit explains.
The two schools of thought on appropriation of resources differ in their interpretation of the treaties. Some say the non-appropriation is implied by the clause that says nations cannot exert sovereignty on celestial bodies, while others say it is not explicit.
The lack of clarity on governance is one of three key topics being discussed by the United Nations in Vienna. The other significant areas of debate include space traffic management and space debris. “Luxembourg deserves some merit for having started the debate about the governance of space resources,” says Schmit, who sits on the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
The committee is setting up a working group to specifically find solutions that could be envisaged by governments to some of the pertinent challenges surrounding governance. “What is important is that humanity keeps investing,” says Schmit. This could be private or public--though Schmit favours the commercial approach as public investment is not very efficient. Property rights, rules for exploration including sustainability, dealing with utilisation and peacefulness, the authorisation of private missions (the Luxembourg law contains 15 articles on this) are all being discussed. “States do have responsibility,” says Schmit.
Three other significant treaties are also worth mentioning. The Rescue Agreement deals with the return of astronauts and objects from outer space, with signatories agreeing to notify the launching authority and the UN if they become aware that the personnel of a spacecraft are in distress and also to provide all possible assistance to rescue the personnel of a spacecraft that has landed in their territory.
Luxembourg is in the process of ratifying this and, because it manages satellites via SES, has already ratified the Liability Convention in which launch states agree to pay compensation for damage caused by space objects on the surface of the Earth or to aircraft, and liable for damage due to its faults in space. Finally, there is the Registration Convention to make identifiable objects that are launched into space. Luxembourg has been de facto registering its launch objects and notifying the UN, but is still in the process of ratifying this convention.