New Executive Order on Industrialization of Space
On April 6th the White House released a new executive order titled on Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources. This executive order affirms the right of commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources found in space, to include the moon. Additionally, the executive order charges the Secretary of State with the responsibility of encouraging international support for commercial resource recovery and producing a report within 180 days of the executive order on the effort.
The executive order is a response to concerns by commercial entities regarding the legal uncertainty of resource recovery from outer space. The executive order promotes the view of outer space as unique domain and not a global commons. The United States is not a signatory to the 1979 Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, nor according to the Executive Order is the “Moon Agreement” necessary to guide nation states on commercial use of the moon.
The executive order aims to spur growth commercial space development. Space is a difficult environment to operate in, and currently very few companies or countries can conduct industrial operations far into space. This executive order could change the cost benefit analysis and encourage more companies to get involved. Commercial ventures may include not only development of new industrial space vehicles but also auxiliary equipment manufacturing, extraction and refining technologies , and supply chain management procedures that would be required to recover resources from space.
The kind of commercialization laid out by this executive order could have a variety of effects on existing uses of space. By garnering commercial interest in space, it could mean more opportunities for the scientific community due to more private money available. However, that private money is likely to focus exploration on practical uses, subjugating pure science and taking up other limited resources such as launch windows. The other concern is that countries may see this as a rush for resources which will encourage them to pursue similar programs to avoid getting left behind. The United States possesses some amazingly inventive individuals and companies. It will be interesting to see an industry created as they come up with as solutions for recovering lunar resources.