The international community has fought for decades to formalize rules for the collection and use of resources in space and on the moon. While the United States and all space countries refused to endorse the most famous attempt at the 1979 “lunar treaty,” the new moon race has prompted the White House to announce that it is open to a new international agreement on the subject.
In an implementing regulation adopted today, the administration signaled that future policy will be “to promote international support for the public and private restoration and use of space resources”.
The order does not specify anything, but only remains a declaration of principle. So this is just a first step. However, this is an indication that the United States wants to advance a new framework for the use of resources in space.
The question of which laws (including property laws and border agreements) apply when you leave the surface of the earth is complex. Even if this were not the case, many laws and regulations on this subject were written or conceived in a completely different space age and in different forms of the Cold War. Given the current boom in space business and the impending colonization of near-earth bodies such as the moon and potential asteroids, new rules are clearly required.
There is currently very little official legal status for materials that are harvested on the moon, taken there, stored there, shared with other countries and so on. Which authorities on earth will mediate disagreements? How can we prevent the lunar surface from being disfigured by commercial mining that blows regolith chunks into orbit?
Like the lack of rules for filling the sky with communication satellites and the resulting global outcry, it is clear that something needs to be done. But the scope of the rules is also questionable. Should things like property rights on the moon be considered? If so, given the complexity of the question, would the rules be finalized in time to avert the conflicts they intend? But if not, why not? And when will they are taken into account?
As you can see, this is a fairly large can of worms that the U.S. wants to open, but it has to be done sooner or later.
To this end, the US will “attempt to negotiate joint declarations, bilateral and multilateral agreements with foreign countries on safe and sustainable operations for the public and private recovery and use of space resources,”
There is no doubt that high-level talks are already underway or the administration would probably not consider it appropriate to publicly declare support for a new approach to space regulation. Undoubtedly, any other country that plans to use commercial space is ready to participate – but that doesn’t mean that the negotiations will be easy or easy.