April 19, 2020

IT’S PAYWALLED, BUT I’VE GOT A PIECE IN THE WSJ WITH TAYLOR DINERMAN ON THE TRUMP SPACE PUSH: Trump Opens Outer Space for Business: An executive order and a prospective treaty aim to make celestial mining an attractive investment.

President Trump acted two weeks ago to bring about the kind of 21st century that we expected in the 20th. If all goes well, it will open the way for mankind to become a true “multiplanet species,” as Elon Musk puts it.

An April 6 executive order, “Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources,” is meant to spur a new industry: the extraction and processing of resources from the moon and asteroids to facilitate settlement of the solar system. With this order, Mr. Trump ended an era of legal uncertainty in outer space and laid the foundation for international cooperation on American terms.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans a manned moon mission in 2024, followed by a “sustained lunar presence.” The U.S. National Space Council, led by Vice President Mike Pence, has been quietly working on an international agreement known as the Artemis Accords, which would clarify the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and provide a solid basis for private enterprise to operate on the moon, Mars and beyond.

The Outer Space Treaty, to which the U.S. and all other major countries are parties, bars “national appropriation” and sovereignty over the moon and other so-called celestial bodies, declaring that they “shall be the province of all mankind.” Some have read into that provision a prohibition on the private appropriation of resources. The executive order rejects that position: “Outer space is a legally and physically unique domain of human activity, and the United States does not view it as a global commons.” . . .

The Trump order also rejects the 1979 Moon Treaty, which was intended to supplant the Outer Space Treaty. The Moon Treaty purports to ban private exploitation of space resources and mandate that any such activity take place under the supervision of an international authority with a rake-off going to Third World governments. President Carter initially supported the pact, but facing popular opposition, the Senate never took up ratification. Mr. Trump’s statement specifically notes that only 17 of the 95 members of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space have ratified the Moon Treaty. None have a major space program.

As a follow up to the executive order, the administration has been quietly preparing the Artemis Accords, which it plans to present first to America’s partners on the International Space Station—Canada, Europe, Japan and Russia—and later to other nations. Parties would “affirm that the extraction and utilization of space resources does not constitute national appropriation under Article 2 of the Outer Space Treaty.” . . .

There’s a lot of wealth in space. A 79-foot-wide asteroid could hold 33.000 tons of extractable material, including $50 million worth of platinum. The 2-mile-wide asteroid 1986 DA could be worth $7 trillion. But that will require massive investment in new technology, and investors need assurance that they won’t pour billions into capturing an asteroid or mining the moon only to be told the resulting product isn’t theirs.

In some ways the administration’s policy is a logical continuation of the Obama-era drive for space commercialization. In 2015 President Obama signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which provides that “a U.S. citizen engaged in the commercial recovery of an asteroid or space resource . . . shall be entitled to . . . possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.” Mr. Trump’s order ensures that international obligations will be supportive and not destructive of such efforts.

Sorry I can’t give you the whole thing, but there’s the gist.

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