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Urgent regulations needed to prevent space race war

  • Urgent need for space regulations
  • Fears of space resource wars
  • International cooperation necessary

To avert a nuclear war triggered by the ‘Wild West’ competition for space resources, the international community needs immediate regulations, warned a British expert who contributed to NASA’s Mars mission.

Many nations have recently turned their attention to the Moon, an expanse rich in undiscovered resources worth several quadrillion pounds. These resources range from rare Earth metals used in electronics to helium, which could be an invaluable energy source.

However, scientists are concerned about how the Moon’s resources will be regulated, as previous attempts, such as the 1979 Moon Agreement, failed to achieve international consensus and were not signed by the United States, Russia, or China.

“At this moment, there are few rules in place,” said Professor Garry Hunt, who worked on NASA’s Voyager and Mars missions, describing the situation as “almost a labyrinth.” He emphasized, “The world urgently needs strict regulations to prevent a ‘wild west’ scenario.”

Without new regulations, war could ensue. This issue requires thorough examination, and we must act very rapidly. We are in dangerous territory.

Space Regulations Demand Global Unity

This comes amid concerns from US intelligence services about Russian President Vladimir Putin potentially deploying nuclear weapons in space. Reports suggest Putin might use these weapons against satellites instead of letting them fall to Earth.

“The fact that an individual with sufficient financial resources can launch anything into space is terrifying from a defence perspective,” said Mr. Hunt, who received an OBE for his contributions to space science.

Enforcing new space regulations would necessitate international cooperation and an organization similar to the United Nations, he added.

“These are issues that will persist indefinitely, far beyond a political lifetime,” the space scientist noted, pointing out that political decisions are often driven by the desire to remain in office rather than the best interests of humanity.

Due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “We’re in a very difficult stage” in convincing nations focused on space to cooperate, Mr. Hunt stated.

“Unfortunately, I think we have to exclude some partners, like the Russians, and try to get the others to cooperate,” he said.

Although he sees the chance of universally accepted regulations as “probably implausible,” he believes “there are ways in which we can come together,” such as through joint space missions.

“These collaborations could lay the groundwork for a strategy to move forward. Although it will be a very slow process, we need to consider it,” he added.

“We can’t keep debating this issue. Action is required now.”

In the past five years, Japan, India, and China have launched unmanned spacecraft to the Moon. Hundreds of public and private Moon missions are planned through 2032. The United States successfully deployed a rover on the Moon this week.

“When I joined the space program, only the Soviet Union and the United States were involved,” Mr. Hunt remarked.

“Now think about the number of countries involved: China, India, South Korea, Japan, the UAE, and so on. And this is just the beginning; it’s open to everyone.

Once commercial growth starts, people with deep pockets and a lot of money will say, ‘Oh, we’ll get spacecraft too.’

While nations claim their Lunar explorations are solely for scientific purposes, the Russian space chief hinted, shortly after his nation’s spacecraft failed to reach the Moon, that the motivations were “technological sovereignty, ensuring defensive capabilities, and access to natural resources.”

“We’ve moved from space exploration to space exploitation and commercialization,” Mr. Hunt observed.

“Mineral exploration is just the beginning. There’s also the threat of space mining and the potential for weapons in outer space,” he continued.

“The approach to [space mining] isn’t first come, first served. This isn’t the Cavalier method we used before. We must be extremely careful in this situation.

And we’re talking about the Moon, Mars, and asteroids, not just the Moon.

NASA and the European Space Agency have expressed interest in finding water on the Moon, which could significantly reduce the cost of space missions by providing a source of oxygen, hydration, and rocket fuel. Currently, transporting a single cubic metre of water from Earth to the Moon costs around £1 million.

The Moon may have common minerals, rare earth elements, and metals in addition to water.

Scientists believe the Moon’s south pole’s cold, dark craters, like Shackleton, Shoemaker, de Gerlache, and Haworth, are crucial for emerging technologies, computers, smartphones, hybrid vehicle batteries, and medical equipment.

Other resources include basalt, iron, quartz, and silicon, which could be used on Earth for windows, stoneware, and solar panels. In electronics, platinum, palladium, and rhodium are valuable metals.

In fact, the titanium ore found by scientists is ten times more abundant than what is found on Earth.

As the ‘Holy Grail’ of energy, nuclear fusion is proposed as a potential alternative to fossil fuels on Earth. The process involves converting hydrogen into helium, mimicking the Sun’s energy conversion process.

Helium-3, found in lunar surface material at concentrations of 20 parts per billion, is a rare element on Earth. It’s deposited on the Moon by the solar wind due to the lack of a protective atmosphere.

Helium-3 on the Moon is estimated to be worth about $1.5 quadrillion (£1.2 quadrillion).

“As we get closer to the Moon, it’s clear

it’s quite cluttered,” Mr. Hunt remarked. There are at least fifty bags of crash debris, two hundred tonnes of trash, a hundred bags of human waste, and who knows what else. “It’s all a mess.”

He noted that the amount of debris orbiting the more than a thousand spacecraft and satellites already in orbit is “phenomenal” but “extremely dangerous.”

“At 17,000 miles per hour, even a tiny hair could cause significant damage,” he said. “So, we’re in a very dangerous era.”

In his new book, Who Owns the Moon?, British philosopher AC Grayling echoes Mr. Hunt’s concerns about a “space Wild West.”

“The potential repercussions for global peace and stability, already precarious on conventional grounds… may be likened to fuel being added to a fire,” he told the Sunday Times last week.

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The philosopher said a conflict between private and state agencies, heavily invested in exploiting Moon resources, is “extremely likely.”

Grayling finds the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which declares the Moon as “humanity’s” property and open for occupation by anyone, “virtually insufficient.”

He suggests it should be replaced with a new international agreement that provides a more robust framework for space operations.

Last week, Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched the Odysseus lunar lander from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral on a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket.

New Era of Lunar Exploration

Its historic lunar landing on Thursday marked the first time an American spacecraft achieved this feat since 1972. However, this isn’t the only Moon mission being planned.

This year, the United States will send several rovers and instruments to the Moon to conduct a comprehensive survey of its resources, terrain, and potential hazards.

Odysseus’s primary concerns include space weather interactions with the lunar surface, radio astronomy, precision landing technologies, and navigation.

NASA wants to send a crew to the Moon in 2026, while China wants to send one in 2030.

Last month, Japan achieved the fifth milestone of lander placement on the moon. Its space agency JAXA executed an unusually accurate ‘pinpoint’ touchdown of its SLIM probe.

India landed on the moon for the fourth time last year, following Russia’s unsuccessful attempt in the same month.

Other than China, the United States, and the former Soviet Union, only the former has achieved successful soft lunar landings. In 2019, China made history by landing on the far side of the moon, setting a new world record.

Additionally, the United States plans to build a “lunar gateway,” a space station that will enable astronauts to be transported to the Moon. Reportedly, the agency intends to expand this capability in the future to facilitate missions to Mars and beyond.

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