WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration is working out a legal plan for mining on the moon under a new U.S.-sponsored international agreement called the Artemis Agreement, people familiar with the proposed pact told Reuters.
ARCHIVE PHOTO: The full moon, known as "Buck Moon", is seen from West Orange, New Jersey, USA, on July 16, 2019. REUTERS / Eduardo Munoz
The deal would be the latest effort to cultivate allies around NASA's plan to place humans and space stations on the moon in the next decade, and comes when the civilian space agency plays an increasing role in the implementation of American foreign policy. The draft pact has not yet been formally shared with US allies.
The Trump administration and other space-traveling countries see the moon as an essential strategic asset in outer space. The Moon is also valuable for long-term scientific research that could enable future missions to Mars – activities that fall under a regime of international space law widely seen as outdated.
The Artemis Agreements, named after the new Artemis lunar program of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, propose "security zones" that would surround future lunar bases to prevent damage or interference from rival countries or companies operating nearby.
The pact also aims to provide a structure under international law for companies to own the resources they mine, the sources said.
In the coming weeks, US officials plan to formally negotiate agreements with space partners such as Canada, Japan and European countries, in addition to the United Arab Emirates, opening negotiations with countries that the Trump administration considers to have "related" interests. in lunar mining.
Russia, an important NASA partner on the International Space Station, will not be an early partner in these deals, the sources said, as the Pentagon increasingly sees Moscow as hostile for doing "threatening" satellite maneuvers against the US spy satellites. USA in Earth orbit. .
The United States is a member of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and sees "security zones" as an implementation of one of its highly debated articles. He states that the celestial bodies and the moon "are not subject to national appropriation by claiming sovereignty, through use or occupation, or by any other means".
"This is not a territorial claim," said a source, who asked to remain anonymous to discuss the deal. Security zones – the size of which varies depending on the operation – would allow coordination between space actors without technically claiming the territory as sovereign, he said.
"The idea is that you are going to approach someone's operations and they have declared security zones around them, so you need to contact them in advance, consult and find out how to do this safely for everyone."
ARTEMIS AS "NATIONAL POWER"
The Artemis Agreements are part of the Trump administration's plan to renounce the treaty process at the United Nations and instead reach an agreement with "like-minded nations", in part because a treaty process would take too long and work with states non-spacers would be unproductive. , a senior government official told Reuters.
As countries increasingly treat space as a new military domain, the US-led deal is also emblematic of NASA's growing role as a tool of American diplomacy and is likely to stir controversy among Washington's space rivals such as China. .
"NASA has everything to do with science, technology and discovery, which are extremely important, but I think that the idea that NASA is a tool of diplomacy is less salient," said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
“The important thing is that countries around the world want to be part of this. This is the element of national power, "said Bridenstine, adding that participation in the Artemis program depends on countries that adhere to the" standards of behavior we hope to see "in space.
NASA is investing tens of billions of dollars in the Artemis program, which requires placing humans on the Moon by 2024 and building a "sustainable presence" at the south pole of the Moon after that, with private companies extracting moon rocks and groundwater that can be converted on rocket fuel.
The United States enacted a law in 2015, granting companies property rights over resources extracted in outer space, but these laws do not exist in the international community.
Joanne Gabrynowicz, editor-in-chief emeritus of the Journal of Space Law, said that an international agreement must be struck before "some kind of area exclusive to science or for any reason" is established.
"It is nothing that any nation can do unilaterally and it is still legal," she said.
Reporting by Joey Roulette; edition of Bill Tarrant and Jonathan Oatis
Our standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust principles.