On 23 August 2023, at 18:02 IST, history was made as the Chandrayaan 3 spacecraft successfully landed on the South Pole of the Moon. This mission, the third lunar endeavour by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), is paving the way for the next generation of space exploration. The onboard rover is now enabling the collection and examination of scientific data that had never been accessed before.
This monumental achievement not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also opens the door to a host of new possibilities and challenges, particularly in the realm of legal and regulatory frameworks governing lunar exploration, space resources, lunar mining, and questions of space sustainability.
Moreover, Chandrayaan 3 showcases the remarkable reduction in the cost of accessing space in recent years, with the mission having cost approximately USD 75 million. In comparison, the recent Russian Luna-25 spacecraft, which crashed into the Moon on August 19, had a budget of around USD 140 million. NASA is also expected to spend over USD 90 billion on its Artemis Moon exploration programme by 2025.
As the NewSpace sector continues to grow and further opportunities emerge in the space economy, important considerations regarding matters such as the rules applicable on the Moon and other celestial bodies, questions of resource ownership and utilisation in space, and aspects of space sustainability become increasingly relevant. Historically, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 has served as the cornerstone of international space law, stipulating that no nation can claim sovereignty over any celestial body. However, with the increasing commercialisation of space, the development of modern space laws and policies must take into account the considerations of the private sector. Notable examples include the US Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015 and the Luxembourg Space Resources Law of 2017.
Numerous critical legal, policy, and regulatory questions need to be clearly addressed as humanity enters the next phase of space exploration. Many initiatives have emerged to provide thought leadership in this area, including the Artemis Accords, introduced by the US and supported by various countries, including India. These Accords aim to establish a set of principles for lunar exploration and utilisation. The United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space has also recently established its Working Group on Legal Aspects of Space Resource Activities, seeking to develop international consensus on issues related to space resource utilisation.
In all of these considerations, a focal point of discussion often revolves around space sustainability, which is a concept that can also be found in Article 9 of the Outer Space Treaty. This discussion underscores the importance of striking a balance between scientific exploration, economic interests, and ethical/environmental considerations, and is a matter that demands a global effort.
Access Partnership’s expertise and practice in the field of space law, policy, and regulation is widespread, with tailored offerings available for stakeholders in all areas of the space economy (and beyond). If you would like a briefing or any further information on our service offerings and solutions, please contact Hamza Hameed at [email protected].