Saturday, September 12, 2020

Space Commerce

 Nasa has announced it is looking for private companies to go to the moon and collect dust and rocks from the surface and bring them back to Earth. The American space agency would then buy the moon samples in amounts between 50 to 500 grams for between $15,000 to $25,000. Nasa already has a separate program to contract companies to fly science experiments and cargo to the moon ahead of a human landing. Those include Astrobotic, SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corp and Lockheed Martin.

The moon rock collection would become part of a technology development program that would help astronauts “live off the land” for crewed missions in the future to the moon or elsewhere.

The Nasa administrator, Jim Bridenstine,  wrote that the agency “is buying lunar soil from a commercial provider. It’s time to establish the regulatory certainty to extract and trade space resources.”

In a blogpost, Bridenstine said the effort would comply with the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which says that no country may lay sovereign claim to the moon or other celestial bodies in much the same way that the Antarctic continent is off-limits for territorial conquest.

In May, Nasa unveiled a legal framework that would govern the behavior of countries and companies in space and on the moon. The legal framework, known as the Artemis Accords, include the creation of “safety zones” around sites where mining and exploration would take place on the lunar surface. Nasa’s top administrator also told a forum held by the Secure World Foundation that the policies that will govern mining from celestial bodies would be much the same as those that currently exist for the world’s oceans.

“We do believe we can extract and utilize the resources of the moon, just as we can extract and utilize tuna from the ocean,” he said, without referring to overfishing and pollution that is rapidly destroying fish stocks in many regions.

Casey Dreier, chief advocate & senior space policy adviser at the Planetary Society, wrote on Twitter that the importance of Nasa’s announcement is “not so much the financial incentive (which is tiny) but in establishing the legal precedent that private companies can collect and sell celestial materials (with the explicit blessing of NASA/U.S. gov)”.

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