Outer Space & Law - a challenging combination

Andrew Ray presents a workshop on Law and Space to Legal Studies students

Andrew Ray presents a workshop on Law and Space to Legal Studies students

By Karen Gregory, Legal Studies Teacher 

In the Year 12 Legal Studies course this semester, students have been exploring an international relations unit, with a focus on specific aspects of international law, namely the Law of Sea, Law of the Air and the Law of Space. 

Last week, under the superb guidance of teacher–librarian Tracy Kelly, students enjoyed a virtual reality tour of space, including a tour of the international space station and a flight through space. Few students had experienced virtual reality and all were impressed and intrigued by what it has to offer. A big ‘thank you’ to Mrs Kelly in mission control! 

Virtual reality, thanks to the Library

Then, last Friday, Collegian Andrew Ray presented a two-hour workshop for both Legal Studies classes on the controversial issue of mining on the moon and other celestial bodies. Andrew is currently in his fourth year at ANU, studying a combined degree in Law and Science. He explained to the students that the “New Space Race,” is a race of corporations, rather than nations, to mine the moon and the thousands of asteroids orbiting the Sun between Earth and Mars. The attraction of mining on these asteroids is not only for water as a fuel source, but for rare and valuable metals, particularly platinum. 

As well as a workshop on the development of customary international law, the Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Treaty, students were asked to grapple with controversial legal and economic issues and calculations, as well as the difficult moral and ethical questions facing mankind, particularly in relation to the mining of asteroids. For instance, with the value of platinum extracted from one asteroid estimated to be worth A$7 trillion on Earth, assuming it can be safely “crashed” back to Earth (the middle of the Australian continent being a prime location), students debated whether such power and wealth should be entrusted to corporations, or the wider world for the benefit of all mankind. 

From solar kites to the building of a space elevator, to President Trump creating a new US Space Force as the sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces, intended to have control over military operations in outer space, the “New Space Race” is on for young and old. And with all new frontiers, the law is struggling to keep pace. For instance, will the Law of Space adopt the doctrines and principles already established under international law, firstly in the development of the Law of the Sea and subsequently applied to the Law of the Air? Or will private commercial exploitation be the order of the day. It is ultimately up to nation states to debate the moral, ethical and economic issues surrounding space exploration and mining, and it will be interesting to watch as the law is forced to evolve to address new and controversial issues. 

Educating students about these issues has new-found relevance as Australia develops its presence in space with the creation of the Australian Space Agency in July this year. The workshop was a wonderful opportunity for students to ask Andrew questions, brainstorm with one another and ponder what the future of law may hold. 

Space lawyers – coming to the heavens near you!

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