A panel at Cercle Cité on 28 June for Asteroid Day. From left: Lisa Burke, Frans Von Der Dunk, Carlos Espejel, Mathias Link and Jean-Louis Schiltz
How to reach a global agreement on the appropriation of space resources was among the topics discussed during the Asteriod Day live broadcast from Luxembourg on Friday afternoon.
“More and more people understand the global legal framework in place in the ‘60s simply cannot be applied anymore because it was set against the background of the Cold War and States wanting to appropriate asteroids. Nowadays it’s about commercial use,” senior partner at Schiltz and Schiltz Jean-Louis Schiltz said during a panel discussion at the Cercle Cité.
He was referring to the 1967 international Outer Space Treaty, which has been signed by 108 countries, and which says that celestial bodies cannot be appropriate and can only be used for peaceful purposes. The 1979 Moon Treaty, meanwhile, states that space is the common heritage of all mankind.
Luxembourg has a vested interest in clarifying the matter since it launched the Space Resources Initiative in 2016, aimed at creating an ecosystem around space as a resource for commercial activities.
To address the matter, the grand duchy created a regulatory framework that would provide legal certainty as to the ownership of space resources, meaning private operators can own what they extract from space.
“National law isn’t going to do the trick by itself,” said Schiltz on Friday, adding: “We needs lots of small initiatives nationally for a global initiative to come to fruition. If we wait for a global idea to reach an international convention, we’ll be waiting a long time.”
Astrophysicist Scott Manley interviews Nicolas Faber of Blue Horizon. Photo: Delano
The importance of a universal agreement was outlined by Mathias Link, director of international affairs at the Luxembourg Space Agency, who said managing space mining would be particularly important when “several companies and countries want to go to the same spot and use the same resources.”
Carlos Espejel, space and earth mine planning engineeer for ispace Luxembourg, explained that in The Hague a working group is currently working on the “building blocks” of space resource appropriation. Among other things, they are looking at priority rights, non-interference, and safety zones. “If we can be fast in creating that framework we will provide the base for private industry, to reduce the risk,” he said, urging support for groups like this one. The UN’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space meanwhile is addressing the lack of clarity on governance as well as space traffic management and space debris.
The panel was one of a dozen or so hosted in Luxembourg City which kicked off the Asteroid Day broadcast. This year’s event placed an emphasis on the role of asteroids in the formation of our solar system and the advances in technology to better detect, track and analyse asteroids.
This year there was also an emphasis on engaging and inspiring local young people in the topic, and scores of high school students sat in the audience for the live broadcasts or participated in off-site interviews. There were also several local experts, including astronomer Matt Dawson, who explained the importance of asteroids: “We can learn about other places. If we can bring back a sample from these asteroids from an alien star system, we can study the soil from another system.”
Asteroid Day is an annual event marking the anniversary of the Earth’s largest asteroid impact in recorded history, the 1908 Siberia Tunguska event. According to Robert Jedicke, some 1,000 asteroids are detected each year, equivalent to three per night. Greater investment in near-Earth observation has resulted in increased detection rates.