The United States is going back to space. But we have some things to figure out on Earth first

May 25, 2020

2016 Wall Scholar and Outer Space Institute co-founder Aaron Boley co-wrote an op-ed about the new era of private spaceflight, the Trump administration’s upending of international laws about who can exploit our solar system’s resources, and Canada’s potential role in paving the way for a new multilateral Outer Space Treaty.

For decades, most space lawyers have assumed that commercial mining was off limits because the 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits the “national appropriation” of the moon and other “celestial bodies” and makes national governments fully responsible for private actors. The U.S. has long been the sole dissenter on this issue.

This month, the United States returns to human spaceflight after a nine-year hiatus. And in the lead up to the launch, the Trump administration issued an executive order that reaffirms the U.S. position on space mining and instructs the State Department to seek expressed support for it from other countries.

Boley says that unless all actors operate in the global interest, space mining could pose a threat to science. Some asteroids contain materials that date to the formation of the planets. Yet the Trump administration has now made it clear that states wishing to participate in the Lunar Gateway must support the U.S. position on space mining, even though it is a minority position globally. Canada must decide whether it will follow the new path, or forge its own.

Aaron Boley is an associate professor in the Department of  Physics and Astronomy. During his time as a Wall Scholar, he received PWIAS funding to hold a symposium to analyze space resource extraction from a joint legal and scientific perspective. The symposium resulted in the creation of the Outer Space Institute, which was co-founded by Boley, Michael Byers and David Kendall.

Boley and Byers are currently organizing an International Research Roundtable titled Sustainable Development of Space to address new and acute challenges concerning the governance of outer space, including orbital debris, the weaponization of space, and space mining.