Ownership of the Moon

When I spoke on space law the day after the 48th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, this article was making the rounds about the legal status of claims to outer space, including moon-related artifacts.

Here’s a recent update about a group working to get the UN involved in designating certain lunar areas as heritage sites.

These are fascinating, ongoing issues that, as one can see, are making the news regularly.

Hat tip to Ed for sharing the initial article with me. His book is available on Amazon.

A special shout out also to my fellow panelist Wayne White, who has written extensively on this topic (pdf).

Update: Luxembourg Get Serious About Space Mining

I posted a couple weeks ago about Luxembourg’s developing legal framework for private space exploration (specifically, mining space resources); the law went into effect today, August 1 (with at least one news outlet reporting it is more liberal than the 2015 SPACE Act provisions as it eases domestic registration requirements). Reuters has a report out that the country is coming out swinging, courting companies and looking to make deals even if the technology is a few years away. Two notes from this article: (1) it notes one measure of the cost of launching 1 kg of weight from Earth into orbit (and argues these costs can be brought down by recycling rocket and satellite components), and (2) offers this fun quote at the end from the Economic Minister: “In 10 years, I’m quite sure that the official language in space will be Luxembourgish.”



Japan Joins the Private Space Race

Recently, Japanese private space company Interstellar Technologies Inc. has joined the private space race. While their rocket, Momo, failed to reach outer space* (shutting off after losing contact shortly into flight) it marks a major attempt by another country’s domestic aerospace industry to join the revolution in private, commercial space flight.  The English version of their website is here.

Setbacks are bound to happen, but the hobbyists-turned-corporate effort is still a significant step as a country with major space ambitions enters the private space age. Notably, the launch was significantly cheaper than those of the public Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

*The question of where outer space begins is an interesting one for scientists and lawyers alike. The boundary is generally agreed to be 100 km (about 62 mi) above Earth’s sea level. Here’s one description of the “Karman line.”

Luxembourg Passes Private Appropriation of Space Resources Law

The law permitting private commercial actors to exploit space resources is a first for Europe, and follows America’s lead.

Forbes reports that Luxembourg’s Parliament approved a law permitting commercial entities to exploit space resources (resources such as water and minerals found in space). The appropriation of resources found in outer space is a major topic of contention in the legal industry.

While technical challenges remain, a legal framework for private actors reaching, utilizing, and owning materials in space (such as commercial mining of asteroids or other celestial bodies) will be imperative. Though we won’t see mining on any asteroid for awhile, it is only a matter of time.

These types of law are not without contention. Some contend that they run afoul of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, a foundational document in space law. That document states, at Article 2, that “[o]uter space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”

I’ve gotten opinions across the board on this provision. Some adamantly hold that this bars ownership or appropriation only by national governments. Others view this law as prohibiting any actors, including individuals and companies.

Recall that the United States passed legislation in 2015, the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (I’ve sometimes seen it called the SPACE Act (for “Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship” Act)). While dealing largely with commercial space transportation (its own complex and important area), that legislation also provided for “exploration” and “recovery” of space resources by private actors.

Want some further reading? Planetary Resources has an OpEd with Space Watch about gulf countries getting involved in  space mining. Beyond capturing the public imagination, space mining and the ability to exploit space resources is a real topic being heavily investigated and even invested in by private companies.


Langley’s Centennial, William Shatner, & My Appearance At FreedomFest

A quick shout out to the NASA’s Langley Research Center (established under the 1915 National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) – a precursor to NASA), celebrating its 100th birthday this week.

Space.com provides a link to a video history of Langley narrated by the one and only William Shatner.

Captain Kirk himself will also be appearing at this year’s FreedomFest in Las Vegas. I’m pleased to announce I’ll be joining him and many others there, as I speak on the panel about the “Revolution in Private Space Development.”


Trump Revives the National Space Council


On June 30, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order No. 13803: “Reviving the National Space Council.”

A successor to the National Aeronautics and Space Council (NASC), the National Space Council was effectively disbanded in 1993 after only four years. Vice President Pence will act as Chair of the Council.  His appointment as Chair means Mr. Pence “shall serve as the President’s principal advisor on national space policy and strategy.” One of his first high profile trips after the Council’s revival was his July 6 trip to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceNews is reporting that the Council’s revival is garnering positive reviews, including for the appointment of Scott Pace as Executive Secretary (per Section 3(e), “[t]he Council shall have a staff, headed by a civilian Executive Secretary appointed by the President”).

The Language of the Law

There will be much more commentary on this in the coming months. The friction between the Council and NASA was a large factor in its suspension in 1993, and it remains to be seen if those same issues will appear again. Its longevity and impact this time around will depend on who is appointed, their claims to authority, level of activity, and political considerations. For now, there is plenty to chew on just in the language of the Order. A cursory comparison of this Order with the one issued in 1989 (E.O. 12675) shows that right off the bat, the Secretary of the Treasury has been removed from a seat on the Council (although it seems clear the Chair would have the authority add the Secretary per Section 2(b)(xiv) of the Order), along with the other new appointments following some shuffling of various governing agencies (or creation of new ones, e.g. Homeland Security) since 1989. Though the Order expressly states the Council “shall not interfere with the existing lines of authority in or responsibilities of any agencies,” (Section 3(d)) it is probably only a matter of time before we hear about at least a “difference of opinion” between it and NASA.

Another note: the Executive Order creates a “Users’ Advisory Group” (Section 6) “composed of non-Federal representatives of industries and other persons involved in aeronautical and space activities.” Tracking down the reference to “Public Law 101-611, section 121” in the Order reveals the reference to the 1991 “National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 1991.” That section itself reads in its entirety:

(a) ESTABLISHMENT- (1) The National Space Council shall establish a Users’
Advisory Group composed of non-Federal representatives of industries and
other persons involved in aeronautical and space activities.
(2) The Vice President shall name a chairman of the Users’ Advisory Group.
(3) The National Space Council shall from time to time, but not less than
once a year, meet with the Users’ Advisory Group.
(4) The function of the Users’ Advisory Group shall be to ensure that the
interests of industries and other non-Federal entities involved in space
activities, including in particular commercial entities, are adequately
represented in the National Space Council.
(5) The Users’ Advisory Group may be assisted by personnel detailed to the
National Space Council.
(b) EXEMPTION- The Users’ Advisory Group shall not be subject to section
14(a)(2) of the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

One comment: Section 6(c) of the Executive Order provides that the Advisory Group “shall report directly to the Council and shall provide advice or work product solely to the Council.” But the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) seems to require that all “records, reports, transcripts, minutes, appendixes, working papers, drafts, studies, agenda, or other documents which were made available to or prepared for or by each advisory committee shall be available for public inspection” subject to FOIA restrictions. [The general reference to publicly available advisory group information is not sourced on Wikipedia, but the text of the FACA can be found online, including here.] This “sole work product” provision did not appear in the 1989 Executive Order. Will this lead to potential litigation? It would be great for a FACA/FOIA expert to weigh in on this topic.

The Role of the National Space Council Going Forward

It’s no wonder that with massive increase in private, commercial space activity, especially in the last 20 years, that there is renewed interest in an advisory group of industry representatives. But is it necessary? After all, major private space players like Elon Musk certainly have had no problem gaining the attention of the President. Will the Council and Advisory Group be an excuse to create further intervention at the apparent behest of industry players in concert with executive officers? Or, will having such a presence help stay the visible hand of government? This will depend on the makeup of the Advisory Group, the vigor of the Council, the goals of the administration, and of course the political landscape over the next few years.