In-Situ Resource Utilization: Legal Aspects

In-Situ Resource Utilization: Legal Aspects

Philip De Man (University of Leuven, Belgium)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7256-5.ch013
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This chapter discusses whether and how the existing rules of international space law can be applied to regulate the activity of space resource exploitation, with a focus on in-situ resource utilization. As such, the chapter aims to establish how natural resources should be defined in the context of space law, how the activity of exploitation compares to other types of activities in space, in particular the prohibited activity of national appropriation, and the extent to which the type and supply of space resource may impact on its regulation. The chapter concludes with a brief overview of the most recent developments in national and international forums attempting to regulate space resource exploitation.
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Types Of Resources And Their Scarcity

Asteroid mining has become particularly salient in light of the recently announced plans of a number of companies, established under US and Luxembourg law, to appropriate valuable resources from a number of celestial bodies, which may be operationalized as early as in 2025 (Wall, 2015). These plans refer to the following natural resources in space:

  • The extraction of rare minerals from asteroids at a distance no further than the Moon for use on Earth and the processing of water found on these asteroids to fuel the in-space economy (Planetary Resources);

  • The excavation of precious ores and minerals on asteroids, and the use of solar energy (Deep Space Industries); and

  • The processing of ice deposits on the Moon for establishing a network of refuelling stations in low-Earth orbit and on the Moon to provide fuel and consumables for commercial and government customers (Shackleton Energy). (Planetary Resources, 2018) (Shackleton Energy, 2018).

The exact legal regulation of all of these different types of use of natural resources from celestial bodies may differ depending on the legal relevance of their classification as scarce, depletable or renewable; in other words: on the impact States’ exploitation of these resources may have on their supply. In the end, however, it is the interaction between these characteristics and two fundamental principles of international space law that will determine whether the activities planned by the above companies will present any legal difficulties.

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