Written Evidence Submitted by Dr Rossana Deplano
1.1 I am a Lecturer in Law at the University of Leicester specialising in international space law. I am the author of ‘The Artemis Accords: Evolution or Revolution of International Space Law?’ (2021) vol 70(3) International and Comparative Law Quarterly – (forthcoming July 2021) doi:10.1017/S0020589321000142.
1.2 I am submitting evidence about the need to integrate two normative aspects into the proposed new UK Space Strategy – namely, acknowledging the global position of the UK as a space nation in the light of the signature of the Artemis Accords on 13 October 2020 and the pressing needs to develop a regulatory framework allowing the utilisation of space resources.
2.1 On 13 October 2020, the UK signed the Artemis Accords. Although a nonbinding instrument, the Artemis Accords are the necessary political commitment to collaborate with the international community on the operationalisation of the US Artemis Program. The latter is the most advanced plan for human space exploration. As of 20 June 2021, the Artemis Accords have been signed by 12 nations. Other nations are expected to follow suit in the short term, thus paving the way for a consensus of the international community on the content and scope of the Artemis Accords.
2.2 The Artemis Accords contain a set of 13 provisions aimed at clarifying key provisions of the Outer Space Treaty (1967), which the UK has ratified. As I also explain in my article (mentioned in Section 1.1 above), the Artemis Accords are compatible with the Outer Space Treaty. At the same time, they introduce concepts not mentioned in the Outer Space Treaty, such as safety zones, priority rights and the lawfulness of space mining. The presence of these concepts in the Artemis Accords has generated mixed reactions within the international community of states and scholars alike.
2.3 As a matter of national policy and international law, it is important that the UK clarifies its position on the contested concepts of the Artemis Accords, which it formally supports before the international community. It is advisable to continue multilateral discussions in fora such as the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. It is also noted that the UK has been endorsing space mining in support of human exploration efforts since 2006 within the framework of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group. It is therefore imperative that the UK Space Policy takes a clear, unambiguous position on the lawfulness of space mining for scientific and commercial purposes.
2.4 A number of compelling reasons suggest that the issue of space resources should be at the heart of the UK Space Strategy’s considerations. Pragmatic reasons include:
It increases scientific knowledge
It creates derived benefits on Earth (e.g. new technologies, health science etc).
It creates economic opportunities (the so called “New Economy”).
2.5 More importantly, space mining is already regarded as an unavoidable development. Earth’s resources are limited and it is only a matter of time that we will reach the point of exhaustion. Mining the resources of outer space is not an option, it is a necessity to preserve the Earth environment. The new UK Space Strategy must be forward-thinking and facilitate the transition toward new ways of interacting with outer space for the benefit of humankind. Other states are already moving in that direction and the UK will be left behind if the issue of space resources is left unattended.
3.1 Endorsement of the lawfulness of space resource utilisation will require a bespoke licensing regime for private entities that intend to be at the forefront of this sector, such as Asteroid Mining Corporation. If the UK does not create a conducive environment for what is estimated to be a quadrillion dollar business to flourish, UK companies will seek more favourable jurisdictions to conduct their business. Four countries have already passed legislation in this field – namely, US (2015), Luxembourg (2017), United Arab Emirates (2019) and Japan(2021).
3.2 The licensing regime for operating spaceports and satellites is not adequate to regulate space resource utilisation. The latter would require a different set of considerations. The Luxembourgish legislation is arguably the most advanced of such licensing regimes. However, the UK does not necessarily have to recognize property rights on outer space resources, like Luxembourg and the US do in their national legislative frameworks. A different interpretation of the term “exploration and use” contained in Article I of the Outer Space Treaty allows the commercial exploitation of space resources, provided that the use of such resources is “for peaceful purposes” only.
3.3 Allowing space mining would not be in breach of the UK international obligations. Quite the contrary, it is difficult to see how the Outer Space Treaty could prohibit an activity that in the short to medium term will become a necessity, due to the scarcity of Earth resources. Space mining for peaceful purposes will bring benefit for all humankind, including future generations. However, it needs to be properly regulated. The new UK Space Strategy should reflect these concerns and not be skewed towards facilitating satellite operations and planetary defence only (for as important as they are for the economy and society in general).