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Model United Nations

Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space: Topic 1

Celestial Body Ownership

COPUOS, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, was established by General Assembly resolution 1472 (XIV)1 in 1959, following the launch of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. The focus of COPUOS includes coordinating and assisting the international space-faring community in a variety of issues, such as the problem of space debris, expansion of satellite-based navigation systems and forming a link between spaceflight and the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The prevention of a space-based arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union was the central focus of its earlier existence, and lead to the creation of several anti-armament treaties, with the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies  (Outer Space Treaty), arguably the most important of them. The treaty, which has been ratified by all current space-faring nations, prohibits the use of outer space or celestial bodies for the installation of weapons of mass destruction.

In addition to guiding the usage of space, COPUOS regulates extraterrestrial real-estate and international law pertaining to orbit allocation and ownership of celestial bodies. In efforts to establish methods of regulation for celestial bodies The Outer Space Treaty  was created by the Legal SubCommittee in 1966 and approved in the General Assembly shortly thereafter. The treaty was based on the Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space approved in the 1962 resolution. This treaty states exploration should be carried out for the benefit of mankind and be conducted in a peaceful, free manner. It also outlaws national appropriation of any celestial body.

Many nations are interested in using celestial bodies as a means for space travel, but this is not the only reason for space exploration. In addition to space travel, there is a desire to utilize resource rich asteroids containing rare elements such as gold, tungsten, silver, and platinum by private mining and energy companies. Ambiguity surrounding non-state status of celestial bodies allows companies and nationally funded bodies to establish exclusive rights over resource rich asteroids with no regulations in place on obtaining these rights.

In an age where space travel is becoming a reality, nations are setting sights on claims to the Moon. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released its Journey to Mars document in October of 2015, in which it details their plans to send men to Mars through building a port on the Moon. This is not the first attempt to claim the moon. Several governments have made attempts at both nomenclature rights and land claims. For example, the Apollo Lunar Landing Legacy Act was introduced into the United States Congress in 2013. The bill proposed to designate the area surrounding the Apollo 11 landing site, a region of the moon known as the Sea of Tranquility, as a US National Park. This would entitle the region to the full rights and protections of federally regulated land, and put it under the jurisdiction of the United States government. Private companies have made similar claims. Gregory W. Nemitz, CEO of the company Orbital Dynamics, laid mining claims to the Asteroid 433, Eros, 11 months before NASA landed the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft on the body’s surface. Nemitz issued NASA a $20 parking ticket for the land the probe was occupying, and later sued the Federal Government when his claim had not been recognized.

As a committee, you must decide what measures and regulations must be in place regarding the ownership of celestial bodies for all nations and private companies. The existing framework must be reevaluated to conform with current events in space exploration. These changes should be transparent and available to all members of the United Nations. Special attention should be paid to the moon as it is a pressing issue in space travel.

Questions to Consider:

  • Is your country active in space? What are their policies in regards to celestial bodies?
  • What is the existing framework? Why is it important?
  • What sort of regulations must be included into the existing framework in regards to celestial body ownership?
  • What defines ownership of celestial bodies?
  • Can private property really exist in space or should we think it as communal? What is the difference?
  • How can multiple countries’ desire to own a celestial body be resolved?
  • Should the Code of Conduct for Outer Space be improved?

Documents to Consider:

Resources to Consider:

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