Why improved registration is essential for public and private activities on the Moon
by Dennis O’Brien
|There is a gap between the topics proposed for information sharing and the treaties and processes that currently provide them.|
The white paper listed 20 specific topics that were identified in the Outer Space Treaty, Registration Convention, Moon Treaty, recent reports from the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (COPUOS) and its subcommittees, and/or the final draft of the Building Blocks of the Hague Space Resources Governance Working Group. The topics and their sources were compiled in a table:
|Outer Space Treaty||Registration Convention||Moon Agreement||Building Blocks||COPUOS & Thematic Priorities|
|Scientific/ Heritage sites||(X)||X|
|Change of status||(X)||X|
* Includes function, purposes, and conduct
(X) = with proposed implementation agreement
? = The Hague Group’s Building Blocks include sharing the results of a mission; it is not clear if this includes the discovery of resources.
This appears to be the first time that a table has been used to compile and compare the various aspects of space law and policy. The table provides a visual perspective that allows two immediate observations. One is that since the adoption of the Outer Space Treaty and the Registration Convention, more topics for information sharing have become important for those with an interest in operating on the Moon. The other is that there is a gap between the topics proposed for information sharing and the treaties and processes that currently provide them.
|The report recommends that the reporting process should be streamlined and automated, allowing member states (and perhaps private operators) to upload information as easily as someone might make an online purchase.|
The current process is managed by the United Nations. Countries—sovereign states—provide information to the UN, including information that is provided to them by private operators. The UN then compiles the information in an online database that is accessible by all. The MVA report concludes that the following additional topics could easily be included in that process:
The report also concludes that the following topics would not easily fit into the current process but nevertheless merit the creation or designation of an institution or process for compiling and sharing such information:
Most of these topics would require an institution/process outside of the Registration Convention to make determinations, such as which sites merit protection, how priority rights are assigned, and how standards and recommended practices are determined. Others are not predictable or are not mission-specific, qualities that are necessary for the current registration process. Yet all have been identified by at least one entity as essential for establishing and maintaining humanity’s presence on the Moon.
The report also noted that the Registration Convention does not require countries to adopt national legislation that requires non-governmental entities to comply with reporting requirements, unlike the Outer Space Treaty’s Article VI:
States Parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty.
The report recommends that similar language—that countries shall adopt legislation requiring non-governmental entities to comply with international agreements—should be included in any new international agreement concerning registration and sharing information. It also recommends that the reporting process should be streamlined and automated, allowing member states (and perhaps private operators) to upload information as easily as someone might make an online purchase, once they have logged in with the proper code.
MVA’s recommendations are an effort to implement the policies highlighted in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals as they relate to the exploration and use of outer space. The report noted that those policies include:
The first three are common to all UN-sponsored agreements concerning outer space. The rest are more specific to registration and sharing information.
|Humanity is about to begin its greatest adventure, but it does not yet have the legal structure to support it. Space law itself needs capacity building.|
During the presentation, MVA also referenced a recent conference paper by Dr. Mark Sundahl, professor at Cleveland State University and director of the Global Space Law Center. Sundahl suggests that registration of priority rights is essential for any entity wanting to develop lunar resources. Without registration there would be no basis for a claim of interference, which is prohibited under the Outer Space Treaty. Registration would thus operate much like the recording of real estate interests on Earth.
MVA identified five areas for future action:
The white paper concludes with the following:
“The above tasks can be summarized as capacity-building for space law, creating the implementation framework for the United Nations Guidelines for Long-Term Sustainability with regards to registration and information sharing of lunar surface activity. Creating the framework will benefit both space-faring countries and their nationals, including private industry. Such an overall task would be consistent with MVA’s mission and within the expertise/objectives of the Coordination and Cooperation Project.” – MVA White Paper conclusion
The complete white paper, including an addendum that contains all relevant treaty sections and proposed norms, can be found at the home page for MVA’s website, along with information about how to join and participate in future discussions. All remarks made concerning this article will also be considered.
Humanity is about to begin its greatest adventure, but it does not yet have the legal structure to support it. Space law itself needs capacity building. The Moon Village Association hopes that its report on registration and sharing information will educate interested parties and encourage them to support this effort. It is an essential next step toward our destiny as a multi-planet species.
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