International Open Letter on Space Mining

The Outer Space Institute
The University of British Columbia

International Open Letter on Space Mining

The Outer Space Institute is pleased to publish the International Open Letter on Space Mining, which stresses the need for a multilateral agreement on the exploration, exploitation, and utilization of space resources and calls on states to present a resolution at the UN General Assembly that urges the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to negotiate a draft of such an agreement. 

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande
President, United Nations General Assembly

cc. André Rypl, Chair, UNCOPUOS
Andrzej Mistzal, Chair, LSC, UNCOPUOS
Natália Archinard, Chair, STSC, UNCOPUOS

August 2020

Dear Dr. Muhammad-Bande,

Re: Multilateral Agreement on Space Resource Utilization

In recent years, the issue of the exploration, exploitation and utilization of outer space resources has achieved some salience within the global outer space community. The uncertainty about the legality of these activities under the current international legal framework has led several States to adopt national laws and engage in bilateral negotiations in an effort to satisfy the need for
legal certainty.

Through discussions within the Legal Subcommittee (LSC) of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), a number of States have expressed concerns with regards to the legality of recovering and using space resources, including commercial recovery and use. There is widespread recognition of the need for some sort of international
mechanism to govern space resource utilization.

In accordance with the preamble, Articles I and II of the 1967 “Outer Space Treaty” (Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies), the legal status of outer space has long been universally acknowledged by States to be an “area beyond national jurisdiction” (often referred to as a “global commons”) similar to the high seas, the deep seabed, and Antarctica. All such areas have been governed through specific multilateral agreements to promote the common interests of all countries, minimize international conflicts, and develop measures to ensure transparency and build confidence.

In the absence of a multilateral process for governing space resource exploration, exploitation and utilization, national approaches risk the development of separate, possibly inconsistent, governance frameworks, while marginalizing input from developing and non-spacefaring States. We believe that such an outcome could have significant and adverse consequences for, inter alia, the advancement of space sciences, cooperation and interoperability, international peace and security, and human and environmental safety.

Several expert groups and non-governmental organizations, representing a wide variety of stakeholders, have proposed principles and frameworks for the multilateral governance of space resources. For instance, in November 2019, The Hague International Space Resources Governance Working Group adopted twenty “Building Blocks for the Development of an International Framework on Space Resource Activities”. This document advocates the establishment of an international framework which is consistent with international law; contributes to sustainable development; promotes and secures “the orderly and safe utilization” of space resources; and takes into “particular account” the needs of developing countries and science. In April 2020, the Outer Space Institute adopted the “Vancouver Recommendations on Space Mining”, which promote negotiations on a multilateral agreement with the negotiations being open to all States.

The current international legal regime for outer space is based on five multilateral treaties that were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in the 1960s and 1970s. These treaties were negotiated within the UNCOPUOS, which is the principal UN body dealing with legal and governance issues related to space. The Legal Subcommittee of UNCOPUOS is gradually introducing space resource utilization into its agenda; however, there is not yet a consensus on this issue.

It is our opinion that the speed and scale of developments relating to the exploration, exploitation and utilization of space resources require more affirmative and urgent action. The undersigned therefore urge States to present for adoption at the United Nations General Assembly, a resolution which would request UNCOPUOS to negotiate, with all deliberate speed, a draft multilateral agreement on space resource exploration, exploitation and utilization for consideration by the General Assembly.

With our gratitude for your attention to, and potential leadership on this important matter, we are,

Yours sincerely,

Letter Author Signatories

  • Aaron Boley, Canada Research Chair in Planetary Astronomy, University of British Columbia, and Co-Director, Outer Space Institute
  • Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law, University of British Columbia, and Co-Director, Outer Space Institute
  • William (Mac) Evans, former President, Canadian Space Agency, and former Chief-of-Staff to the Minister of National Defence
  • Ram S. Jakhu, Institute of Air and Space Law, Faculty of Law, McGill University
  • David Kendall, former Chair, UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, and former Director General of Space Science and Technology, Canadian Space Agency
  • Paul Meyer, Adjunct Professor of International Studies and Fellow in International Security, Simon Fraser University, and former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament
  • Marie Lucy Stojak, Executive-Director of Mosaic-Creativity & Innovation Hub, HEC Montréal
  • Louise Fréchette, former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations
  • Hans Corell, former Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the Legal Counsel of the United Nations
  • Lawrence Cannon, former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Ambassador to France
  • Lloyd Axworthy, Chair, World Refugee and Migration Council, and former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • John Manley, former Canadian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister; former President and CEO of the Business Council of Canada
  • Christopher Pyne, former Australian Minister for Defence and former Leader of the House, Australian Parliament
  • Michel Mayor, Nobel Laureate, University of Geneva, Switzerland
  • John Polanyi, Nobel Laureate, University of Toronto, Canada
  • Didier Queloz, Nobel Laureate, Cavendish Laboratory and University of Geneva
  • Peter Jankowitsch, President, International Academy of Astronautics, and former Chair (1972-1991) of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
  • Rakesh Sood, Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi; former Ambassador for Disarmament; former Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of India for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation
  • Roland Doré, Former President and Principal, Ecole Polytechnique Montréal, former President, Canadian Space Agency, former President, International Space University
  • Isabelle Sourbès Verger, Directrice de recherche, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Centre Alexandre Koyré, Paris, France
  • Nigel Mason, Professor, President of the Europlanet Society and Coordinator of the Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure.
  • Bill Nye, CEO, on behalf of The Planetary Society, Pasadena, California
  • Sara Ellison, Professor of Astronomy, University of Victoria, and President of the Canadian Astronomical Society
  • Douglas Roche, former Canadian Senator and former Ambassador for Disarmament
  • Paul Heinbecker, former Canadian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and former Ambassador to Germany
  • Jeremy Kinsman, former Canadian Ambassador to the European Union, Russia, Italy, and the United Kingdom
  • Tim Stephens, Professor of International Law, University of Sydney, Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law, immediate past President of the Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law
  • Marius Grinius, Fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva
  • Peggy Mason, former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament to the UN, President of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs
  • Wang Guoyu, Associate Professor and Dean of the Academy of Air, Space Policy and Law, Beijing Institute of Technology, China
  • Henry Hertzfeld, Director, Space Policy Institute, Research Professor, Elliott School of International Relations, Adjunct Professor of Law, The George Washington University
  • Sanat Kaul, Chairman, International Foundation for Aviation, Aerospace and Drones, New Delhi, India
  • Jean-Jacques Tortora, Director, European Space Policy Institute, Vienna, Austria
  • Iver B. Neumann, Director, Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Oslo, Norway
  • David Tan, Professor and Vice Dean (Academic Affairs), Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore
  • Götz Neuneck, Professor, Department of Physics, University of Hamburg, Germany
  • Michael Krepon, Co-founder and Distinguished Fellow, The Stimson Center, Washington, DC
  • Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz, Professor Emerita, University of Mississippi School of Law, United States
  • William E. Rees, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Applied Science, University of British Columbia
  • Jonathan F. Galloway, Irwin L. & Fern D. Young Presidential Chair, Emeritus, Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, Illinois, and Honorary Vice-President, International Institute of Space Law
  • Jean-Frédéric Morin, Canada Research Chair in International Political Economy, Université Laval, Québec
  • Sara Russell, Professor of Planetary Sciences, Natural History Museum, London, UK
  • Alice Gorman, Associate Professor, Flinders University; Board Director, JustSpace Alliance; former Deputy Chair of the Space Industry Association of Australia
  • John M. Logsdon, Professor Emeritus and founder, Space Policy Institute, The George Washington University
  • Conel Alexander, Staff Scientist, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington DC
  • Janis Sarra, Professor, Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia, Presidential Distinguished Professor, UBC, 2014-2019, Associate, Centre for Business Law
  • T.V. Paul, James McGill Professor of International Relations, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
  • Avis Lang, Coauthor of “Accessory to War” (with Neil deGrasse Tyson), New York City
  • Don Anton, Honorary Professor of Law, Australian National University
  • Scott Tremaine, Professor Emeritus, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and Professor, Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, University of Toronto
  • Duncan Blake, Senior Research Associate, University of New South Wales; Immediate past Chair, Australia New Zealand Space Law Interest Group
  • Payam Akhavan, Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University; Member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration
  • Audrey Bouvier, Professor in Experimental Planetology, Universität Bayreuth, Germany
  • Philip De Man, Visiting Professor, Space Studies, University of Leuven
  • Simon Dalby, Professor of Geopolitics, Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada
  • Erik Røsæg, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Oslo, Norway
  • Alessandro Morbidelli, Conseil National de la Rescherche Scientifique; Lagrange Laboratory, Observatoire de la Cote d’Azur, Nice, France
  • Thomas S. Axworthy, Public Policy Chair, Massey College, University of Toronto
  • Oran R. Young, Professor Emeritus, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Thomas Homer-Dixon, University Research Chair, Faculty of Environment, University of Waterloo, and Director, Cascade Institute
  • Diana Valencia, Associate Professor of Physics and Astrophysics, University of Toronto, Scarborough
  • Donald R. Rothwell, Professor of International Law, Australian National University
  • Cassandra Steer, Lecturer, Australian National University College of Law and Mission Specialist, ANU Institute for Space; former Executive Director of the McGill Centre for Research in Air and Space Law
  • Christopher D.K. Herd, Director, Institute for Space Science, Exploration and Technology, University of Alberta, Canada
  • Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen, Professor & Barents Chair in Politics, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø
  • Bjarni Már Magnússon, Professor, Reykjavík University School of Law, Iceland
  • Jessica West, PhD, Senior Researcher, Project Ploughshares, Canada
  • Adam Bower, Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in International Relations Director, Centre for Global Law and Governance, University of St Andrews
  • Gordon Osinski, Professor and Director, Institute for Earth and Space Exploration, The University of Western Ontario, Canada
  • Jim Dator, Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • Vito De Lucia, PhD, Associate Professor, Norwegian Centre for the Law of the Sea, Faculty of Law, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø
  • Lucianne Walkowicz, Astrophysicist and co-founder, The JustSpace AllianceJennifer Welsh, Canada 150 Research Chair in Global Governance & Security; Director, Centre for International Peace and Security Studies, McGill University, Canada
  • Justin St. P. Walsh, RPA, Associate Professor of Art History and Archaeology, Chapman University, and co-PI, International Space Station Archaeological Project
  • Frederick Scharmen, Associate Professor, School of Architecture and Planning, Morgan State University, and Author of Space Settlements
  • Nicolas Cowan, Canada Research Chair in Planetary Climate, McGill University and McGill Space Institute
  • Stefan Kirchner, MJI, Assessor jur., Rechtsanwalt and space consultant
  • Brett Gladman, Professor & Canada Research Chair in Planetary Astronomy, University of British Columbia
  • Walter F. LaFeber, Andrew Tisch and James Tisch Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, Cornell University
  • Paul Fitzgerald, Adjunct Professor, Institute of Air & Space Law, McGill University
  • Julio Angel Fernández, Departamento de Astronomía, Universidad de la República, Montevideo, Uruguay
  • Tone Bleie, Professor Public Policy and Planning, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, former Director, Centre for Peace Studies
  • Andreas Østhagen, Senior Research Fellow, Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Oslo, Norway
  • Moriba Jah, Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, The University of Texas at Austin
  • David A. Welch, University Research Chair and Professor of Political Science, University of Waterloo and Balsillie School of International Affairs
  • Beth Laura O’Leary, Professor Emerita, Department of Anthropology, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico
  • Alla Pozdnakova, Professor of Law, University of Oslo, Norway
  • Tristan Guillot, Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur / CNRS, Nice, France
  • Sean Richmond, Department of Law and Legal Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
  • Luis Benavides, Professor of International Law, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Former UN Security Council Humanitarian Expert
  • Gordon Walker, Professor Emeritus, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of British Columbia
  • Margaret Moore, Professor of Political Studies, Queen’s University; Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada
  • Geir Ulfstein, Professor of International Law and Co-Director of PluriCourts, University of Oslo, Norway
  • Cait Storr, Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Faculty of Law, University of Technology, Sydney
  • Martin Dominik, St Andrews Centre for Exoplanet Science, University of St Andrews, Scotland
  • Alberto Rueda Carazo, Co-lead, Space Law and Policy Project Group at Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC), Researcher, IDEST (Institut du droit de l’espace et des télécommunications), Paris-Saclay University, Paris, France
  • Thomas Cheney, Lecturer in Space Governance, AstrobiologyOU, The Open University, UK, and Executive Director, Centre for a Spacefaring Civilization
  • Daniel Deudney, Professor, Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
  • John G. Spray, President, HIT Dynamics Ltd, and Adjunct Professor and Director, Planetary and Space Science Centre, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, Canada
  • Kyran Grattan, Co-Lead, Space Generation Advisory Council Space Law (SGAC) and Policy Project Group
  • Maren Hülsmann, Co-Lead, Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) and Space Safety and Sustainability Project Group (2020-2022)
  • Val Muzik, Junior Fellow, Outer Space Institute; Research Associate, The Arctic Institute; PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia
  • Andrew Simon-Butler, Junior Fellow, Outer Space Institute; Research Staff, Melbourne Social Equity Institute
  • Laura Grego, Senior Scientist, Global Security Program, Union of Concerned Scientist
  • Ewan Wright, Research Analyst Intern, European Space Policy Institute, Vienna
  • Gregor Novak, Doctoral Candidate, Yale Law School
  • Surendra Parashar, former EX Director, Satellite Operations, Ground Infrastructure and Applications, Canadian Space Agency
  • Andi Jordan, Public Opinion Researcher, Vancouver, Canada; former Researcher in Outer Space Politics, University of British Columbia
  • Asif Siddiqi, Professor of History, Fordham University, New York
  • Michael Sheehan, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, Swansea University, UK
  • Tara Ivanochko, Associate Professor of Teaching, Director, Environmental Science, Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia
  • Penelope Simons, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law (Common Law Section) and Human Rights Research and Education Center, University of Ottawa
  • Allen G. Sens, Professor of Teaching, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia
  • Graziella Caprarelli, Adjunct Research Professor – International Research School of Planetary Sciences (Italy), Adjunct Research Associate – School of Sciences, University of Southern Queensland (Australia)
  • Klaus Dodds, Professor of Geopolitics, Royal Holloway University of London, UK
  • Fraser MacDonald, Historian of astronautics and Lecturer, School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Kent Peacock, Professor of Philosophy, University of Lethbridge, Canada
  • Satish Srivastava, former Operations Planning Manager, Satellite Operations, Canadian Space Agency
  • James A. Green, Professor, Public International Law, University of Reading, UK
  • John H. Currie, Professor of Law, former VP Governance, University of Ottawa
  • Aaron J. Rosengren, Assistant Professor, Space Systems, Jacobs School of Engineering University of California, San Diego
  • Simon Chesterman, Dean and Provost’s Chair Professor, National University of Singapore Faculty of Law, Singapore
  • Sara L. Seck, Associate Professor, Schulich School of Law, Marine & Environmental Law Institute, Dalhousie University, Canada
  • Ronald J. Deibert, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto, Canada
  • Ludovic van Waerbeke, Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of British Columbia
  • Christopher Newman, Professor of Space Law & Policy, Northumbria Law School, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  • Ibironke Odumosu-Ayanu, Associate Professor, College of Law, University of Saskatchewan
  • Ady James, Associate Professor in Space Science, University of South Australia and CoDirector of Education and Training, SmartSat CRC
  • Manuel Becerra-Ramirez, Professor of International Law, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)
  • Richard Price, Professor and Head, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia
  • Tanya Harrison, Planetary Scientist and Manager of Science Programs at Planet Labs
  • Marina Favaro, Policy Analyst, BASIC, London, UK
  • Philipp Kastner, Senior Lecturer in International Law, University of Western Australia
  • LeRoy Davis Larry, Jr., Director, Natural Physics Global Outreach, Escazú, Costa Rica
  • Rowena Christiansen, Medical Educator, University of Melbourne; Fellow, Aerospace Medical Association; Founder, The ad astra vita Project; Director, Mars Society Australia; Executive Officer, Space Medicine and Space Surgery Associations
  • Bernhard Schmidt-Tedd, Space Law and Policy e.V. Cologne, Honorary Professor, Leuphana University, Germany
  • Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, Distinguished Fellow, Nuclear & Space Policy Initiative, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, India
  • Richard H. Durisen, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
  • Timo Koivurova, Research Professor & Director, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Finland
  • Margaret MacMillan, Emeritus Professor of International History, University of Oxford; Professor of History, University of Toronto
  • Juan Cruz González Allonca, Associate Professor of Department of Engineering and Technological Research, Faculty of Engineering, Universidad Nacional de La Matanza, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Sa’id Mosteshar, Director, London Institute of Space Policy and Law; Senior Associate Research Fellow, Institute for Advanced Legal Studies, University of London, United Kingdom
  • Armel Kerrest, Professor emeritus of the French Universities, President of the Association for the development of Space Law in France.

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