26 April 2019
Europe/Amsterdam timezone

Towards an International Space Resources Union?

Not scheduled
Newton 2 (ESA/ESTEC)

Newton 2


Keplerlaan 1 2201 AZ Noordwijk


The last decade access to outer space has become more common than ever before. The global space industry is valued at 360 billion USD in 2018 and a growing number of private companies world-wide aim to explore and use outer space for commercial purposes. Although technically it would not constitute an ‘arms race in space’, the current space race aiming for the strategically important areas on the moon and other celestial bodies – even if only economically, may create significant political tension in the international community. What if the People’s Republic of China authorises a ten-year license to a Chinese entity that manages the first to start extracting resources from the Moon in one of the few areas where water has been found? It is highly unlikely that Europe and the United States would happily perceive this action as a step towards scientific development for the benefit of all humankind. One can imagine that, the other way around, the People’s Republic of China or the Russian Federation would perceive a similar authorisation for a private American or European company in the same way.

A solid legal solution is needed to maintain international peace and security and to guarantee the coordinated and sustainable development of space mining activities in the interest of all countries. Obviously the non-appropriation principle (art. II OST) is of utmost importance, although currently it generates legal uncertainty, which endangers international peace and security. Furthermore, the applicable authorisation system on mere national level creates a ‘first come, first serve’ practice in which consideration of the ‘commons’ is at risk. Authorisation is currently granted by national authorities that can be driven by the aim to be the first State mining the most valuable areas of the Moon. As a consequence, this ‘first come, first serve’ practice is not only seriously challenging to international peace and security, it is inherently contrary to the benefit of all humankind. Therefore, this paper will argue for the urgent development of a meaningful international body taking into account that thorough cooperation and consultation on the authorisation of space mining activities will be fundamental in order to avoid conflicts in space, and to guarantee sustainable development of outer space activities.

First, this paper will shortly address an evaluation of the International Seabed Authority and the International Telecommunications Union as potential examples for the governance of space mining activities. Due regard will be given to the advantages and disadvantages of each and what makes them (un)successful. Second, this paper will examine to what extent the successful elements of these international bodies can be applied to space mining activities, which will be helpful to, finally, make a proposal on the concrete structure and functioning of this international body for managing mining rights in space resources.

(Sigrid Heirbrant, 28 years, student, University of Luxembourg, panel Commercial Mining of Celestial Bodies)

Primary author

Ms Sigrid Heirbrant (University of Luxembourg)

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