Humans are on track to export our environmental problems to space
To be clear, space is not exactly the Wild West. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty—The Magna Carta of Space Law — establishes a framework and key principles to guide responsible behavior in space. Negotiated and drafted during an era of the Cold War and heightened political tensions, the binding treaty largely addresses concerns of a time when the apocalypse was a far more imminent threat than space debris. On the one hand, it prohibits the deployment of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in outer space. Four other international treaties dealing exclusively with outer space and related activities followed. These include the 1972 Liability Convention, which establishes who should be held responsible for damage caused by space objects, and the 1979 Lunar Accord, which attempts to prevent the commercial exploitation of space resources, such as mineral resources to establish lunar colonies.
Today, what has become mundane space activities (think plans to launch constellations of hundreds to tens of thousands of satellites or even ambitious proposals to extract resources from near-Earth asteroids) are subject to rules. established at a time when such activity fell within the realm of science fiction.
Space law documents are vague with respect to many of the scenarios that present themselves, and the Moon Accord has too few signatories to be effective. As a result, private space companies today can look at the half-century-old Outer Space Treaty and the four agreements that followed and reinterpret them in ways that favor their results, according to Jakhu. For example, efforts to extract asteroids have been supported by the argument that, according to the Outer Space Treaty, governments cannot extract and conserve an asteroid’s natural resources, but private companies can. (At best, the grandfather of space treaties does not provide a clear answer on the legality of asteroid mining.) Since private companies prioritize money, “the ground rules of l ‘outer space must be extended, strengthened and enforced’.
Efforts have been done to solve this problem. Regulatory bodies like the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and government, non-government and commercial space experts have come together to chop the building blocks of a new governance fill the current gaps in space law. In view of the intensification of space activities in recent years, UNOOSA has drafted widely accepted guidelines for debris mitigation and long term durability. (The guidelines suggest safe debris mitigation, disposal practices, and general good behavior, for example advising that all space objects be recorded and tracked and that 90% of them be removed from orbit. here the end of their mission.) These, like most efforts. to fill policy gaps in space law – are “soft rights” or a soft international instrument that no one is legally bound to abide by. Yet some countries, such as the United States, China and India, have incorporated standards of international legal principles of conduct in space into their national laws for the licensing of space activities.
Multinational initiatives led by individual space countries, such as the recent US-sponsored project Artemis chords, signal an alternative route. Named after NASA’s Human Spaceflight Program to the Moon, these are general guidelines that nations should follow when exploring the Moon, including being peaceful, working together, and leaving no trash. Yet the agreements have yet to be signed by key US allies and space partners, such as Germany and France. Meanwhile, a concrete path to an international agreement may soon emerge. During the first week of November, representatives from the United Kingdom proposed that the United Nations organize a task force – the first step in treaty negotiations – to develop new standards of international behavior beyond Earth.