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The Trump administration may be in the midst of battling a global pandemic, but the President made time on Monday to sign an executive order establishing a policy that calls for the U.S. to mine and exploit the other resources like water on the moon. NASA is going back to the moon in 2024, and last week they announced their intention to deploy new technologies identified in the Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative, focusing on “in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) and power systems.”
Why This Matters: Doesn’t the President have more important things to do right now than to pursue his endless quest to mine and exploit resources? It is bad enough that the administration continues to hold sales of oil and gas leases on federal land on Earth. But now he has to lay a claim on resources in space? It may be legally correct that these resources on the Moon and Mars are there for the owning (as opposed to belonging to all mankind) but this is not the time to set off a race to exploit space resources. Honestly, this is so absurd — we could not make this s–t up if we tried.
Why Is This EO Happening?
President Trump is focused on rejuvenating space exploration. In December 2017, he directed the government to reinvigorate the space program and find commercial partners to participate in an “innovative and sustainable program” headed by the United States to “lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.” Sure the space program in the 60s and 70s led to great technological advances and more earthly things like the drink Tang and velcro. But those missions had science and exploration at their center, not commercial exploitation. President Trump has focused instead on militarizing space — in 2019, he created the Space Force as a fifth military service led by a four-star general who directs and prepares operations for space warfighting. And now he’s moved on to making money in space. According to Axios, this latest order directs the State Department to find international partners that are interested in collaborating with the U.S. on creating “sustainable operations” related to commercial use of space-based resources.
Creates Legal Certainty
Ian Christenson of the Secure World Foundation told Axios in an email that “[p]roviding private operators legal certainty in space resources utilization activities will require international consultation. This action is a step towards that process, and will support active U.S. leadership in bilateral and multilateral efforts to resolve legal uncertainties around space resources utilization.” This type of certainty is what is needed for private investors to put money behind ventures to explore and exploit the resources they find. According to Space.com, “The new executive order makes things even more official, stressing that the United States does not view space as a ‘global commons’ and sees a clear path to off-Earth mining, without the need for further international treaty-level agreements.”
Pentagon scientists have successfully tested a small solar panel that, when launched into space, can collect solar power and beam it to any place on earth. The special panel is called a Photovoltaic Radiofrequency Antenna Module (PRAM) and was launched last May attached to a drone that circles the earth once every 90 minutes. If scaled up, scientists say that these orbital solar panels could work 24/7 and collect more sunlight than those on earth, and provide power to remote areas of the globe and major power grids alike.
To many companies, space is the new “Wild West,” a “final frontier” of resources to be exploited for profit. To avoid a “land rush” in space, nations and space companies will need to agree on what they can claim to own or even begin to extract from outer space before their competitors beat them to it.
Why this Matters: Tesla and Amazon are working to make space travel and resource extraction for private citizens and companies possible.
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