With an increasing number of countries targeting space and even talk of extraction of natural resources like minerals, space regulation is more urgent than ever. But how do you do that to something that is infinite and nobody has it?
In the United States, the inauguration of the US Space Command is currently underway, with space law professor Frans von der Donck to deliver a keynote speech. I talked to him about the situation regarding space law and the challenges that existed (for a while).
It is not easy to legislate space law: space is endless, no one is responsible, and more than half of the countries in the world are now involved in space travel. There has been a space treaty since 1967 that already contains some rules. For example, you may not establish a military base on the moon, or allocate a piece of space. But now that the growing interests are starting to play, Von der Dunk says there is an urgent need for clearer rules.
One of the topics that should be at the top of the list – and a relatively easy topic because it has a common interest – he says is space debris. “It is in no one’s interest that soon he will not even pay hundreds of millions of launches due to the sheer amount of junk in space,” says Von der Dunk. Because of this common interest, it might be a good starting point for somewhat heavy topics. First there must be sufficient confidence in each other’s intentions.
For example, the heavier topic could be: extracting natural resources, but also something like control. There are really rules for that, too. For example, other countries should be given a limited opportunity at launch to verify whether a nuclear missile is being launched covertly into the air, for example. These rules really call for expansion, just like the rules of observation on the moon. You can’t do anything there, but when does the Moonbase operator have to open when he knocks on the door? In such a dangerous place, you must get along with each other very carefully.
Around the table
Then there is the question: Who can help identify? Anyone doing anything in the space field? This is no longer just Russia, America and China. And then she gets very busy at that table. Plus, international law is really difficult, here on Earth, too. Because if two of the biggest players say: We don’t see anything in that treaty, and we don’t participate, then there can still be a lot of countries that support it, then just try to enforce it.
Is it possible at all? International space law? Von der Dunk doesn’t deny that it will be very difficult, but he has a cautious hope. He thinks big steps can be taken in the next five years, certainly on some issues.
Curious to know the whole story of Von der Dunk: You can listen to his keyword tomorrow 04-08 at 9:30 pm KST. It’s free, but you have to register via this link: US Space Command’s inaugural legal conference.