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Discussing Space Mining in Luxembourg

The second meeting of the second phase of The Hague International Space Resources Governance Working Group (hereafter ‘the Working Group’) was held in Luxembourg last week (29-30 November). It was an interesting, informative and productive meeting continuing what has been an interesting (albeit at times frustrating), informative and productive process, and I’m grateful to Tanja Masson-Zwaan for inviting me to participate over two and a half years ago. The meetings are conducted subject to the Chatham House rule so I can’t go into too much specific detail about what was discussed but I will endeavour to provide a short synopsis, focusing on what I feel to be the two main issues that were discussed during the meeting of the Working Group. These are the need for a discussion of spectrum related issues and ‘safety zones.’

Luxembourg Night copy

Unfortunately didn’t get to see much of Luxembourg in daylight

The Working Group set up a technical panel earlier this year and at the meeting in Luxembourg they presented their work, which was phenomenal. One of the issues that they highlighted was the issue of ‘spectrum regulation’ and the tendency for current ‘deep space operations’ to give spectrum under the category of ‘research’. This has been adequate while most of these activities have been research focused, but as we are entering a period when these activities will become increasingly diverse (as well as more common) it is time to consider developing a more detailed system for regulating spectrum beyond Earth orbit. However, the ITU moves at a fairly slow pace and therefore there is a need to get this process started as soon as possible (this is one of those, by the time you think it’s necessary it will be too late, so we need to get started now things). This is an important issue that will have an impact on more than just the space resources industry and is one that should certainly be a high priority for the space interested States at the next World Radiocommunication Conference.

The other issue is that of ‘safety zones.’ The idea of safety zones or similar ideas isn’t unique to space resource activities as some of those looking at commercial space stations and outposts have also raised similar ideas. Safety zones have been part of The Hague Working Group Building Blocks since the beginning. I fully support the idea, the principle; ensuring the safe operation of space activities is vital, especially as it goes hand in hand with the goal of avoiding conflict in outer space and furthering the cause of international cooperation. However, we do need to be careful how we structure proposals for ‘safety zones’ as some of the proposals veer into exercising de facto territorial jurisdiction, which would violate the spirit, if not the letter of Article II of the Outer Space Treaty. For the record, I think that Building Block 10 captures the necessary compromise as well as can be done, though I have some unease about some of the specific word choices. The key with safety zones is that they need to be ‘advisory’ not ‘exclusionary’, and in order for that to work there really needs to be something like an industry code of conduct, helping to establish norms of behaviour and ‘reasonability’ which would assist in the assignation of liability and responsibility in the event of non-compliance. For what it is worth, I think we need these ‘rules of the road’ for more than just space mining, but orbital operations as well.

Overall the Working Group continues to be an excellent initiative, and while still undergoing development, if you haven’t already, it is worth your time examining the Building Blocks. I think the Hague Working Group approach could be useful in some other areas of space governance, although I’m sure there’s room for improvement on the process. Assuming Brexit related nonsense doesn’t intervene to prevent it, I look forward to attending the next meeting in April.

The Draft Building Blocks can be found here.

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