Universal Stakes, Who Owns The Rights For Space Exploitation

Tiny Luxembourg is taking a leading role in devising the laws necessary to regulate the business of space exploration.

Who owns it?
Who owns it?
Vasudevan Mukunth

Of the 195 countries in the world, only 27 are smaller than Luxembourg. The landlocked country in western Europe has the world's second highest GDP per capita (more than $104,000). Its lands are rich in iron ore and, since the 1970s, Luxembourg has been promoting itself as a hub of financial services in Europe. The country has had a stable government and is generally welcoming of foreigners. But in the near future — or even today — knowing this much about Luxembourg will not be enough.

What sets Luxembourg apart, in Europe and around the world, is the choice of its political leadership to use the opportunities afforded by space exploration and associated technologies to develop the country. On July 13, Luxembourg's Chamber of Deputies, its unicameral legislative body, passed a law that recognizes the legal ownership of resources mined in outer space by private companies. The law is reportedly compliant with the Outer Space Treaty (OST) 1967, ratified by 107 countries, including Luxembourg.

As one of the financial capitals of the European Union, it has already been easy to get money in and out of Luxembourg. The new law will further lubricate existing mechanisms and make the landlocked nation a desirable HQ for space prospecting and mining cos, who will also be able to enjoy the associated legal clarity not available in most other states on the planet. A draft version of the law had been adopted by the Luxembourgish government in November 2016, a few months after its economics minister instituted a $227-million fund to be used to seed new startups, as capital for bigger companies and to help set up the country's first space agency (outside of its participation with the European Space Agency).

To boldly go ...

As a result, two American companies, Deep Space Industries (DSI) and Planetary Resources, already have plans to move. The government is also working with a Japanese company named ispace and a German one named Blue Horizon.

A new law signals Luxembourg's intention to persist with its bold pro-space strategy after reaping immense rewards from the first time it tried it. In 1985, its government played a major role in the founding of SES, the company that would launch Astra, Europe's first private satellite, three years later. Today, SES operates a fleet of 42 satellites and rakes in $2 billion in annual revenues, with the Luxembourg government as a major shareholder. In a press conference in June 2016, the country's prime minister Xavier Bettel said, "We should never forget that and be proud of the courage the politicians had at that time."

Our natural satellite, the thousands of near-Earth objects (i.e. objects within 200 million kilometer from the Sun) and the belt of asteroids between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter contain water, metals, minerals and gases worth a fortune, either for their rarity or their relevance to sustaining life.

The problem lay with recognizing ownership.

Both Planetary Resources and DSI had announced around 2013 that they would mine some of these resources before the decade's close, although their plans have since rapidly evolved. David Gump, the founding CEO of DSI, had told me in 2013 that they would mine compounds that could be used as fuel for communication satellites already in orbit around Earth and mine metals to expand their functionality. Planetary, on the other hand, is set to focus on mining the platinum group metals and bringing them home for trade. To these ends, Luxembourg has agreed to help build experimental spacecraft as a testbed for prospecting and mining technologies for DSI and invested $28 million in Planetary to help realize its prospecting mission by 2020.

But a bigger problem lay with recognizing ownership. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty had been drafted and ratified with governments in mind. Today, there is a privately funded competition requiring its participants to land and operate a rover on the Moon. Additionally, until around 2015, it wasn't clear if a private organization could plant its flag on an off-Earth object and claim ownership. Even if it did, there was no legal framework within which a government could be called upon to defend the organization's claim on a multilateral forum. Third, the Outer Space Treaty was also concerned about preventing off-Earth bodies from becoming contaminated by substances from Earth that could in any way alter or destabilize the local environment. Fourth, and most importantly, OST had envisioned the utilization of space as the "common heritage of mankind."

Overall, as Dale Broucher, of NORCAT, a nonprofit innovation center in Ontario, told Space in 2012: "I don't think a big mining industry is really going to get involved unless that have some surety that they can make a profit. They can't make a profit from it unless there is some regulatory regime in place that allows them do that … whether that's tax incentives or whether it's a mining claim concept."

The Luxembourg legislation goes partway in fixing this. Its government's deputy prime minister, and economy minister, Étienne Schneider had said in 2016, "The Luxembourg government will provide funding for relevant R&D in this field, namely to build and operate a risk-reduction technology demonstration mission for small spacecraft asteroid exploration for DSI.

Photo: Alan Dyer/ZUMA

Another piece of legislation that addressed some of these issues was drawn up by the U.S. A year before Bettel's government had adopted their draft law, Barack Obama's government had passed the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, a.k.a. the Space Act. It declared that while no private player could plant a flag on the Moon and claim it for itself, it could be said to own the resources mined therefrom. This was good news for DSI and Planetary because the Space Act would help protect investments – but it was bad news for the international regime as such.

In sum, as Gbenga Oduntan, an expert on international law at the University of Kent, had written at the time, "that American companies could on the basis of domestic laws alone systematically exploit mineral resources in space … really amounts to the audacity of greed."

Private property and celestial bodies

The Luxembourg law has been patterned on the Space Act. In fact, in one place, it even goes further and states that a company need only have an office address registered within the country's borders to enjoy its government's protection. Is this then another face of the "audacity of greed"? It doesn't seem so. The international community has certainly been less vehement in its opposition now than when the Space Act was passed. Why?

A digital magazine named Delano reported in April that the Council of State, a group of citizens who work with the Chamber of Deputies in the drafting of legislation, had voiced concerns that "private property claims are illegal or at least not legally binding in most of the international treaties and agreements relating to space and celestial bodies'. Following this, Space News had reported in June that, according to Mario Grotz, the chief of research for the new initiative, "language has been included in order to comply with those treaty obligations'. Schneider clarified, in a different statement, that their law did not "suggest to either establish or imply in any way sovereignty over a territory or over a celestial body. Only the appropriation of space resources is addressed in the legal framework."

It seems disagreeing with the Outer Space Treaty in spirit is fine so long as it follows the letter, if only because it is dawning on us all that there is no way to hold the private exploitation of space resources back.

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com!

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