Space: France also wants its piece of the Moon

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With the “Artemis Agreements”, France is committed alongside the Americans with a view to exploiting the various resources present on the lunar soil.

The text, which brings together a series of principles of law, however, goes against the Outer Space Treaty, by opening the way to the appropriation of the latter.

The idea of ​​going to the Moon to recover various natural resources has been on the table for a few years. This Tuesday, in Washington in the United States, France took the rocket in motion by signing the famous “Artemis agreements”, the stated objective of which is to ensure a “safe, peaceful and prosperous ” future in space, particularly in view of the return of man to the Moon. Concretely, the signatory countries adhere to a series of legal principles which determine the bases of cooperation in the exploitation of the resources of the Moon, Mars and, in the longer term, comets and asteroids. Transparency of missions, interoperability of systems, assistance to personnel in the event of distress, sharing of scientific data, and preservation of historic sites, are listed,in this 18-page text, ratified for the moment by twenty countries.

With for France, beautiful prospects are in sight. “For both our scientific community and our industry, this new framework will make it possible to face new challenges and to continue to be counted among the major space powers” , welcomed the president of the National Center for Space Studies (Canes ), Philippe Baptiste, quoted in a press release from NASA. By teaming up with the Americans, France could potentially join the very restricted list of nations that have set foot on lunar soil. Not to mention the economic benefits. For example, the Esprit communication and resupply module of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G), the space station that the United States wants to put into orbit around the Moon within a few years, must be designed in France in the factories of Thales Alenia Space.

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The exploitation of space resources

However, many observers are concerned that these agreements challenge the international status quo of space law on the exploitation and appropriation of outer space resources. Exploring space is good. Exploiting it is even better. The agreements provide for the possibility of delimiting “safety zones” to avoid “harmful interference” by a third party. However, the 1967 Space Treaty, considering that it is a common good of humanity, prohibits any appropriation of these resources.” Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall not be subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, or by way of use or occupation, or by any other means” , reads in Article II of the treaty in question.

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By acknowledging that “the extraction of space resources” and “the creation of contracts and other legal instruments relating to space resources” are in accordance with the Outer Space Treaty, the United States opens a new era of space conquest and gives the kick off of the lunar gold rush. Initially, the most important of our satellite's resources will be water, to extract hydrogen and oxygen, essential to the operation of the future space station in orbit around the Moon, planned for horizon 2028. The American probe LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) has detected large quantities in the form of ice, particularly at the South Pole.

In the longer term, the establishment of a sustainable lunar base will also have to be based on the exploitation of the lunar regolith, that is to say, the superficial layer of dust which covers all the plains and seas. This would serve as raw material for the 3D printers responsible for producing the construction elements of the base. Another highly prized resource is helium-3 (3He), an element extremely rare on Earth but deposited in abundance on the selen soil by solar winds. The price per kilo is already estimated at nearly half a million dollars. This isotope, derived from solar winds, could be used as fuel to power tomorrow's rockets more powerfully. But this technology still requires research and will not see the light of day before the second half of the 21st century.

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