Universiteit Leiden

nl en

A lunar land grab?

Missions to the moon have become popular again. In just one week, a lunar mission from Russia failed while India landed a spacecraft in a historic first. Companies, too, want to go to the moon. But can anyone just go to the moon? Tanja Masson-Zwaan explains the rules of international space law on Dutch radio programme BNR Nieuwsradio.

Owner of the moon

On 23 August 2023 CET, the Indian space craft Chandrayaan-3 touched down on the moon. Soon after, the flag of India could be seen flying. A symbolic gesture, however, as ‘no one can own territory on the moon’, Masson-Zwaan tells BNR Nieuwsradio. She continues: ‘A treaty has been passed stating that no one can own space, an astronomical object or orbit, or a piece of the moon. Space is free for all countries to explore and use.’

'You can't just launch a space craft from your backyard.'

Can companies also go to the moon?

The race to and around the moon is no longer exclusive to countries. There are companies now who also have their eye on lunar missions, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX. But not just anyone can go to the moon. Masson-Zwaan: ‘People are definitely not supposed to launch space crafts from their backyard (…) For a lunar mission, companies need permission from the government of the country where they’re based. So even Elon Musk needs a permit. Sometimes he’s also hauled back into line, like when his space craft recently exploded. All kinds of checks will now need to be done before he can launch [a space craft] again.’

‘Space law was created in the 1960s and 70s and is focused on states. States are responsible for the activities of their companies and also liable if those companies cause damage. So, if something from another country or from another country’s company is damaged, then it is the state of the responsible company that will be held accountable.’

Building on the moon

So far, nothing is being built on the moon. If there are going to be one or multiple moon bases in the future, countries will need to ‘develop certain rules of conduct’, says Masson-Zwaan. In principle, countries are allowed to build on the moon, but ‘the treaty does state that you can’t unnecessarily disturb activities of other countries’. ‘So, you shouldn’t start kicking up a lot of lunar soil causing a great deal of inconvenience to another country’s base. Prior consultation would be needed.’

'You shouldn’t start kicking up a lot of lunar soil.'

Hear more?

Listen to BNR Nieuwsradio’s broadcast ‘The Daily Move’ (in Dutch) of 23 August (item starts at 1:23:43 seconds), and find out, among other things, if Masson-Zwaan would dare to enter Elon Musk’s space craft.

Photo at the top of the article: Mark Tegethoff via Unsplash.

Thumbnail of the article: Ivan Diaz via Unsplash.

This website uses cookies.  More information.