U.S. Government Prepares to Approve First Private Space Expedition to the Moon

by Julian Ku

This is big.  Huge, even. From the Wall Street Journal:

U.S. officials appear poised to make history by approving the first private space mission to go beyond Earth’s orbit, according to people familiar with the details.

The government’s endorsement would eliminate the largest regulatory hurdle to plans by Moon Express, a relatively obscure space startup, to land a roughly 20-pound package of scientific hardware on the Moon sometime next year.

The main obstacles to this commercial moon mission are not technical or financial. The main problem appears to be legal.  First, the U.S. government must approve the launch (this appears to be happening soon).  Second, the U.S. and the world need to figure out how to regulate commercial exploitation of the moon, because companies like “Moon Express” are not in this for the science alone.  The Moon Treaty seems to prohibit any commercial exploitation of the Moon’s resources under Article 11 (“[N]atural resources of the moon… shall [not] become the property of any ..person”), but the U.S. never ratified it and neither did any of the other major spacefaring nations.

So we are left to the “Outer Space” treaty, which the U.S. did join, but which has much less emphatic limitations on commercial development of celestial resources (as I argued here and here).  I think it is safe to say commercial exploitation of the moon and asteroids is going to happen sooner than we think (starting next year?).  The law will have to catch up later.


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