The world had better “watch out” for the Chinese trying to dominate lunar resources, senior NASA official Bill Nelson has warned.
In an interview with POLITICO, the NASA administrator said the US was in a new space race with China and spoke of fears that Beijing might try “under the guise of scientific research” to dominate the richest places in Moon resources, and perhaps even keep other space agencies out.
“We’d better be careful that they don’t get to a place on the Moon under the guise of scientific research. And it’s not beyond the realm of possibility for them to say, ‘Stay away, we’re here, this is our turf,’ he said.
“If you doubt it, look what they did to the Spratly Islands.”
The Spratly Islands are a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea where, according to recently released aerial reconnaissance photos, there are new Chinese military installations on the disputed archipelago in the South China Sea.
The new space race: United States vs China
In December, NASA celebrated its 26-day Artemis I mission, in which an uncrewed space capsule completed a orbit around the Moon. The mission, which is the first big step in NASA’s plan to send men back to the lunar surface, was hailed as “a success beyond NASA’s dreams.”
But NASA’s achievements are clouded by China’s “strategic goal of displacing the United States economically, diplomatically, and militarily as the dominant global space power,” as described in a report written by officials with the Space Force, Space Defense Innovation, Air Force and Air Force Research Laboratory.
“While the US space industrial base remains on an upward trajectory, participants expressed concern that the PRC’s upward trajectory…will be even steeper, with a significant rate of exceedance, requiring urgent action. ”, the report says.
“Proactive measures are required to maintain our nation’s space leadership in all instruments of national power despite China’s attempt to accelerate closing its technology gap with the US.”
China has made astronomical progress in the past 20 years, recently completing its new space station, Tiangong, and sending a crew of taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) to the station in November.
In December, the Chinese government laid out its long-term vision for more ambitious space missions, such as building infrastructure in space and creating a space governance system.
Can China claim extraterrestrial territory?
As stated in the Outer Space Treaty reached at the UN General Assembly in 1966, nations or companies cannot claim sovereignty on the moon or make it their own territory.
This is determined by a mosaic spatial governance structure made up of international treaties, guidelines, national regulatory laws, and industry best practices to guide decision-making mechanisms in times of doubt.
Specifically, the Outer Space Treaty says that all exploration and use of outer space will be carried out for the benefit and in the interest of all countries and will be the competence of all mankind, that outer space will be free for exploration and use by all states, and that outer space is not the object of national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by use or occupation, or by any other means.
There is also a Moon agreement to regulate the exploitation
The Moon Agreement reaffirms and elaborates many of the provisions of the Outer Space Treaty that apply to the Moon and other celestial bodies.
Fundamentally, the Moon treatise says that the environments of places like the Moon or Mars, for example, should not be disturbed. The Agreement also establishes that “an international regime should be established to govern the exploitation of such resources when such exploitation is about to become feasible.”
Since the Moon treaty was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979, it has been ratified by five countries, none of which had completed human spaceflight, such as the United States, Russia or China.
So where does this leave us with the current competition between the US and China?
The geopolitical battle will bring, at least, knowledge
“China is strong and learns very, very quickly,” said Francis Rocard, a solar system expert at CNES, the French government’s space agency.
And because the United States “won’t be too happy to see the Chinese send a crew to the Moon before them,” it will speed up its efforts, he predicts.
“And even though these decisions have nothing to do with science in the first place (just as Apollo had nothing to do with science), the ripple effect will be an opportunity and potential to improve our knowledge of the Moon.” .